Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, psychologist and author of The Two Moralities: Conservatives, Liberals, and the Roots of Our Political Divide; Matthew Levendusky, political scientist and author of Our Common Bonds: Using What Americans Share to Help Bridge the Partisan Divide; and Kenji Yoshino, legal scholar and author of Say the Right Thing: How to Talk About Identity, Diversity, and Justice, join for a conversation exploring the roots of America’s political divide, various strategies for overcoming partisan gridlock, and how and why to engage in difficult discussions to secure the future of democracy. Thomas Donnelly, chief content officer at the National Constitution Center, moderates. The 60 minute video or podcast covers a number of issues already known to Braver Angels members but are presented here in an interesting conversation with three authors.
Here is a summary of some key points from each author.
Ronnie Janoff-Bulman: There are moral foundations on both conservative and liberal sides about ‘approaching the good and avoiding the bad’. Generally harder for persons to learn to do well for others rather than to avoid doing harm to others. Conservatives may favor proscriptive/restrictive morality to avoid instability – perceived as a harm – to the nation, society, local communities. Liberals may favor prescriptive/novelty seeking morality to expand conceptions and roles of government. A person’s preference toward either proscriptive or prescriptive moral attitude will arise from many sources but many have roots in early childhood, associated with psychological temperament, emotional development and circumstances of childhood into early adulthood. Moral convictions motivate differently from other convictions: more powerful, less likely to change. Realistically we can help one another in these difficult conversations and relationships by recognizing how important our democracy is to each and all of us.
Matthew Levandusky: Affective polarization – active dislike for the ‘other’ side – has increased, expanding in scope to include dislike for ideas, when formerly that dislike may have attached primarily to candidates or political leadership. However, each side importantly mis-perceives what the other side believes. The book identifies ways in which persons from either side may actually agree. Overcoming political animosity is possible by a. finding common identities that we share (e.g. ‘parent’, ‘spouse/partner’, members of a faith community, geography, etc); and b.listening more than talking (the conversation or relationship is not for the purpose of telling people how they are wrong). Cross-party dialogue can be more possible – and effective – than most people initially believe: a. have small-stakes conversation to start, b. ask questions and listen with an aim toward discovering common ground.
Kenji Yoshino: While the law establishes a ‘floor’ for discussing diversity, equity and inclusion personal conversations are more nuanced and important for understanding what preserves healthy society. Rise of ally-ship has been an important feature of current discussions; where persons of different identities support one another in their struggles; but many – who want to be allies – may not step forward for fear of saying or doing ‘the wrong thing’. The book explores ideas and tools (‘seven principles’) for being an ally, including disagreeing respectfully and/or apologizing authentically; avoiding conversational traps and unproductive behaviors; building resilience and cultivating curiosity; addressing when harm has been done in the relationship that includes the person who has offended as well as a person who experienced offense. Disagreements about identity, in particular, are better mediated by locating/understanding oneself in the controversy. There may be a scale of seriousness or threat – is the disagreement about a personal preference, about a journalistic or practical fact, or about shared equal humanity? – that should be acknowledged respectfully. Humility is required particularly, along with curiosity, when there is greater seriousness or threat.