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The Dangers of “Mega-partisan” Identities in the US

A Summary of the NCDD Listserv Conversation Entitled: Democrats are wrong about Republicans and Republicans are wrong about Democrats

Listserv Contributors: Ken Homer, Tom Altee, Babara (last name masked), Peter Jones, John Backman, Bruce Waltuck, Rosa Zubizarreta, Dennis Boyer, Linda Ellinor, Dana Morris-Jones, Sarah Read, David Fridley, Kim Crowley, Steve Griffith, Chris Santos-Long, Terry Steichen, James Anest, Joan Blades, Kenoli Oleari, David Fridley, Deb Blakeslee, Britt Blaser, Eric Smiley, Howard Ward

In July, NCDD member Ken Homer shared a news article by Perry Bacon Jr. in the “Secret Identity” column from FiveThirtyEight.com which features articles discussing the role of identity in politics and policy.  This article entitled, “Democrats Are Wrong About Republicans. Republicans Are Wrong About Democrats” claims that the political divide between Republicans and Democrats in the United States has grown to “encapsulate all other divides” and is continuing to grow reinforcing negative partisanship and overall misconceptions by both political parties about the other and their membership. This article emphasizes how “the parties in our heads” do not align with reality and that these stereotypes are problematic.

As many fellow NCDD members weighed in, the issue of an increasingly polarized population in the United States was deemed concerning. Questions arose about who fuels the fire of polarization and whether the encouragement is intentional via a divide and conquer strategy of the political parties themselves. Other important actors include traditional media and social media which frame thinking and dialogue regarding politics. Market driven media has led to a system were it is very easy to only consume what we want to, including local and global news. Increasingly, it is becoming easier to remain in political comfort zones or “echo chambers” that reinforce our own beliefs, deface the political “other”, and facilitate less necessity to look at policy outcomes versus political loyalties. As NCDD member Peter Jones wrote, “The news is not an unbiased partner but a corporate instigator in search of clicks and attention.”

We share our wonderings together in our NCDD community via the discussion listservs.  Multiple contributors chimed in with stimulating perspectives and ideas. Here are some examples:

  1. John Backman asks, “Based only on my own observations over the years, I wonder if another divide—one we rarely hear discussed—is even more fundamental and defining: between urban and rural?”
  2. Rosa Zubizarreta brings up ideas for new voting options including “ranked choice voting” to help our society step away from mega-partisan tendencies. Looking for alternatives that eliminate the frequent bi-partisan voting complaint of needing to pick “the lesser of two evils.”
  3. Linda Ellinor notes the worthwhile exercise of intentional system designs that could facilitate large scale conversations that focus on inclusivity with the objective of better governance. Reiterating that we must remain diligent, persistent, and intentional, because “it always leads to better futures when we tap our collective intelligence…” David Fridley agreed and would like to work with others to begin designing and working on a collaborative project.
  4. Kenoli Oleari emphasizes the need for “standing assemblies” around the world–bringing diverse communities together physically to combat isolations which leads to polarization. As Kenoli states, “It may take a community to raise a child; it also takes a community to raise adults.”
  5. A discussion about how the “elites” and “masses” dialogue (or lack thereof) and the importance of how these dialogues can be improved as varying contexts delineate who belongs to the “elite” versus the “masses.” In other words, in some contexts an individual or group may be an elite, and in a different realm, they may be part of the masses. One way mentioned that the two interact are via media reporting and the groups reacting. (Kenolli Oleari, David Fridley, Chris Santos-Long, Howard Ward)
  6. Britt Blaser brings up the idea for having crowdsourced policy-making in the United States context.

The phenomenon of mega-partisan politics can spur a desire to look externally to blame, however we must also critically look at our own ways of learning and aligning our values to political allegiances. Many in NCDD brought up ideas for critical reflection and moving discussion towards doable positive action including ways to think about structural improvements to existing democratic systems, fostering more participation at the local level, and ways to create dialogues that are politically inclusive to determine mutual goals across political divides.

Want to follow the full thread of this conversation? Check out the NCDD Discussion List archives!

We want to keep the dialogue going!

What are your thoughts to the questions below? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

What are the consequences of political choices being closely (and falsely) tied to many other identities including one’s religion, race, zip code, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, etc.?

What does it mean for someone to vote based on political party versus personal values?

What are mega-partisanship and negative partisanship? What are the implications to society of each of these phenomenon?

With a society that is primarily bipartisan, what are the most effective ways to exercise voice among those who do not identify with either the Democratic or Republican party?

How can we as a nation move towards a less polarized environment? Can data help?

How do individuals and communities define reason? Values? Information? Facts?

How can we work to challenge our own “blind spots” when it comes to political stereotypes and speculation?

What can be done to cross the divide? What could be done to eliminate it? What can the role be for those of us doing dialogue and deliberation work?

What could accountability look like for news/media/government?

How can the disconnect between what the American people want and policy initiatives be reconciled?

Read On – Additional Resources on the Topic:

Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Vintage.

Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2007). When morality opposes justice: Conservatives have moral intuitions that liberals may not recognize. Social Justice Research, 20(1), 98-116.

Javidiani, M. (2018) Beyond Facts: Increasing Trust In Journalism Through Community Engagement & Transparency. [MRP] Retrieved by: http://openresearch.ocadu.ca/id/eprint/2294/

Lessig, L. (August 10, 2017) TedTalk: How the net destroyed democracy. Retrieved by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHTBQCpNm5o

McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the message. New York, 123, 126-128.

Mounk, Y. (July 2, 2018). The Rise of McPolitics: Democrats and Republicans belong to increasingly homogeneous parties. Can we survive the loss of local politics? New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/07/02/the-rise-of-mcpolitics

Wheatley, M. J. (2012). So far from home: Lost and found in our brave new world. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Annie Rappeport
Annie is a current Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland College Park and the NCDD intern. Her work in dialogue and deliberation began at her undergraduate university, Trinity University in San Antonio and continued with her M.Ed. work at the University of Virginia and professional time with Semester at Sea for over 5 years. She loves combining her fields of the arts and international peace education with D&D initiatives.

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