Ben Sasse: Strengths and Weaknesses

Ben Sasse: Strengths and Weaknesses

Political/Books

Ben Sasse: Strengths and Weaknesses
By Wade Lee Hudson

In Them: Why We Hate Each Other—And How We Can Heal, Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) affirms important values. Unfortunately, his politics contradict his values. 

Sasse declares:

By working to secure for each of our countrymen and women the freedom from coercive power, we help to secure for every American the freedom to live lives of love, worshipping as we see fit, serving our neighbors, and pursuing happiness and friendship….

We share common interests and goals that are more important than just about any question of federal policy—chief among these goals, raising our children to be kind, thoughtful, gritty, respectful adults who use their skills and talents to serve others.

He acknowledges serious social problems, such as “persistent racism in our criminal justice system…, the breathtaking inefficiencies and inequities of our health-care system…, the haphazard funding of scientific research.” His primary concern is “the collapse of the local tribes that give us true, meaningful identity—family, workplace, and neighborhood.”

Our communities are collapsing, and people are feeling more isolated, adrift, and purposeless than ever before…. It has to do with the deep bonds that join people together, that give their lives richness and meaning—and the fact that those bonds are fraying…. It’s about the evaporation of social capital—the reservoir of relationships that help us navigate the world.

These cultural reflections and his stories about the need to serve people in need are sensible. But when he talks about politics, he loses his clarity—both in what he says and what he does not say. He also seems to forsake his honesty. “This book is not going to be about politics,” he declares early on. But the whole book is political. It reads like a campaign memoir. 

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Democratic Equality and Democratic Dialog

Democratic Equality and Democratic Dialog

Systemic/Essays

Democratic Equality and Democratic Dialog
By Wade Lee Hudson

Equality is the goal; dialog, the method. These two forms of democracy are interwoven. When we engage in democratic dialog and form democratic relationships, we democratize society and help establish freedom from oppression and the freedom to the means required for all to live a good life. We build popular movements with supermajority support that sustain meaningful change. Our means are consistent with our end. We achieve our goal, in part, as we pursue it. Democratic equality involves democratic dialog, and democratic dialog nurtures democratic equality. Face-to-face, democratic communities active year-round counter disinformation, help save the planet, and help steadily transform our world — one person, family, community, workplace, institution, nation at a time.

Individuals are not identical; we differ in many ways. Nevertheless, individuals are essentially equal. Democracy affirms this equality. Democrats practice what they preach.  

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Adam Gopnik: Liberalism. The “Left,” and the “Right”

Adam Gopnik: Liberalism. The “Left,” and the “Right”

Political/Books

A THOUSAND SMALL SANITIES 
The Moral Adventure of Liberalism
Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik: Liberalism. The “Left,” and the “Right”

In his latest book, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism, Adam Gopnik rejects “the right” and “the left” and advocates “liberalism,” which, he says, is more “potent” than either “conservatism” or “radicalism.” However, he acknowledges that “radical” and “liberal” traditions are “entwined, entangled, braided one into the other,” and he affirms many aspects of “conservatism.” These complications create confusion and make it difficult for him to clearly distinguish the two ideologies. 

So why not integrate the best elements from each perspective (and others) into an alternate worldview? Gopnik does not consider this option, though a blend of “liberal” economics and “conservative” racism, as evidenced by Tucker Carlson, could prove to be a serious threat as the old categories become outdated. A better blend is called for.

Following are some of Gopnik’s “liberal” principles that make sense to me (except for his “liberal” label): 

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The Democrats: What Happened to Equality?

The Democrats: What Happened to Equality?

Political/Essays

The Democrats: What Happened to Equality?
By Wade Lee Hudson

Books and articles often show me new angles, offer new information, or deepen my perspective. Rarely do they change my thinking in a major way. Elizabeth S. Anderson’s 1999 tour de force “What is the Point of Equality?” is an exception. I’m still absorbing the impact of her passionate manifesto. No wonder colleagues have called that 50-page article “path breaking” and The New Yorker described her as “The Philosopher Redefining Equality.”

Anderson wants to end oppression by creating communities “in which people stand in relations of equality” to one another. Her thinking is rooted in numerous grassroots egalitarian movements, such as the civil rights, womens’, and disability rights movements.

Unfortunately, however, most grassroots political movements today don’t clearly reflect those social values. Rather, they focus on material reality. And, as indicated by what they said at the September 2019 debate, neither have the Democratic candidates for President absorbed her insights.

In the following review, which includes extensive excerpts, I place in bold her language that prompted new insights for me, and place in italics points that strengthened my convictions. 

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As Anderson sees it: 

Recent egalitarian writing has come to be dominated by the view that the fundamental aim of equality is to compensate people for undeserved bad luck—being born with poor native endowments, bad parents, and disagreeable personalities, suffering from accidents and illness, and so forth…. This “equality of fortune” perspective [or “luck egalitarianism”] is essentially a "starting-gate theory": as long as people enjoy fair shares at the start of life, it does not much concern itself with the suffering and subjection generated by people's voluntary agreements in free markets…. 

[Their] writing...seems strangely detached from existing egalitarian political movements…[that have fought for] the freedom to appear in public as who they are, without shame, [and] campaigned against demeaning stereotypes. 

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My Story: Peer-to-Peer Community (Part One)

My Story: Peer-to-Peer Community (Part One)

About/Wade Lee Hudson

My Story: Peer-to-Peer Community (Part One)
By Wade Lee Hudson

My first organizing was on sandlot softball fields. Boys would show up and two “captains” took turns selecting teammates, assigned positions, and set the batting order. Two of the better players, which usually included me, served as captain, but anyone could do it, and many often did. There were no arguments about this decision. Each captain was dispensable. The players weren’t dependent on a leader. Little did I realize that this simple, horizontal, self-regulating, self-perpetuating, peer-to-peer structure would become a community organizing model for the rest of my life — though, alas, I followed it imperfectly.

My second project was the high school chess club, which I initiated. After advertising, some fifteen students joined and met weekly. At the first meeting, we randomly determined each student’s initial position on a vertical ladder. Players moved up and down the ladder as they won or lost. Another peer-to-peer structure, this one within a larger, democratic hierarchy: the school administration.

During high school, as is common, I participated in a clique. Mine was a group of five boys who read and discussed iconoclastic literature such as H.L. Mencken and Bertrand Russell and frequently gathered at night to smoke pipes and play poker. That informal structure also nurtured a rewarding sense of peer-to-peer community. As Bob Dylan sings, “I wish, I wish, I wish in vain / That we could sit simply in that room again.”

When I entered the University of California, Berkeley in 1962, I joined a student co-op as a boarder.

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Citizen University Sermons

Citizen University Sermons

Politics/Books

A review
Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy
Eric Liu
Sasquatch Books, 2019, 302 pages

Citizen University Sermons
By Wade Lee Hudson

Eric Liu’s latest book, Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy, is eloquent and inspiring. His exhortations to be engaged in civic activism, beyond voting, are compelling. In the end, however, he comes up short. He neglects the need for new, holistic structures that nurture an energizing cultural environment. 

The book consists of “civic sermons” that Liu presented at various locations throughout the country as part of a series of “Civic Saturdays,” a project of the Seattle-based Citizen University, which is dedicated to “building a culture of powerful, responsible citizenship.” In the Preface to the book, Liu declares:

We are the counterculture now. In a culture of celebrity worship and consumerism, we stand for service and citizenship. And in the age of hyper-individualism, we practice collective action and common cause. In a time of sentimentalism and showy  sanctimony, we stand for discernment and humility. In the smog of hypocrisy and situational ethics, we still live and breathe the universal timeless values and ideals of the Golden Rule, the Tao, the Declaration, and the Preamble of the Constitution. That is radical.

In the “A Divided Heart” chapter, Liu reports that a friend, Mark, who was a founder of the Tea Party, in so many words said, “Millions of Americans have felt left out and put down, told that they’re deplorable racists and bigots and sexists if they challenge the elites and insiders who are tolerant of everyone but them. They're tired of it, and with Trump, they found a way to say so.” Become America and the Citizen University aim to speak to these people.

Liu has concluded “Americans today lack the coherence and moral clarity and civic self-possession to resist a real Hitler, and that's one thing we’d better work on.”

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Building a “Full-Stack Society” with “New Power”

Building a “Full-Stack Society” with “New Power”

Building a “Full-Stack Society” with “New Power”
By Wade Lee Hudson

Process is important. So is product. Advocates for democracy who focus on mobilizing popular power can forget that the tyranny of the majority is a real threat. New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World -- and How to Make It Work for You by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms acknowledges this reality, and offers a solution. …

They make a strong case for dynamics that are “open, participatory, and peer driven.” Yet they also write: ”As we see with ISIS and the growing hordes of white supremacists,... the tools that bring us closer together can also drive us further apart.” Heimans and Timms argue we can avoid this danger by creating “a world in which all major social and economic institutions are designed so that [all] people can more meaningfully shape every aspect of their lives.” 

According to their vision:

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Identity Politics and Social Movements

Identity Politics and Social Movements

Identity Politics and Social Movements
By Wade Lee Hudson

An important recent Ezra Klein Show podcast is the interview with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an associate professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University and the author of How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, which traces the origins of the term “identity politics.” In the podcast, Taylor argues that the weakening of social movements in the 1980s contributed to a distortion of the term’s original meaning.

…So identity politics in that circumstance 

becomes almost a way of introspection, a kind of internal politics, a kind of way for oppressed and marginalized people to talk to each other, and to really turn away from this idea...of collective and social change [that] was in some ways rooted with the idea that white people would resist the dominant social order and that white people could play some role in a movement to transform society….

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Politicians, Movements, and Democracy

Politicians, Movements, and Democracy
By Wade Lee Hudson

These days Democratic politicians often talk about building “movements,” but they rarely talk about how they want to help build those movements. Most of them only talk about gaining supporters for their campaigns and then mobilizing those supporters from time to time, as did Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders. But to a considerable degree, Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, a member of “the Squad,” is an exception.

During a recent Pod Save America podcast, “Our lawless, wall-less president," at the 42:10 mark, Pressley reported: 

I want to be in coalition…. Evicting this President...is all about movement building. It’s about organizing and mobilizing.… These times demand unprecedented activism and unprecedented legislating. And that’s not work we do alone…. When our democracy is working again on behalf of the American people [we will need] pressure on the outside that activists and agitators continue to exert….

The way I’ve been getting at the issue of housing, which is my number-one constituent concern, is that I’ve been convening, since well before I was in office or elected, the Equity Agenda roundtable discussion where we engage the community. They’re not a traditional town hall. We have breakout sessions. It’s a two-way dialog. I’ve always maintained that those closest to the pain should be closest to the power, driving and informing the policy making. So I take my cue from the community…. I’m cooperatively governing….

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Racism and Support for Trump

Political/Racism

Racism and Support for Trump
By Wade Lee Hudson

In “We Aren’t Seeing White Support for Trump for What It Is,” Thomas B. Edsall reports on recent studies that examine some of the complexities concerning race, class, and poltics in the United States.

According to these findings, “whites with relatively high incomes — in the top two quintiles of the income distribution — but without college degrees” have fueled the “the surge of whites into the Republican Party.” Many of these relatively well-off individuals probably “fear that in the Knowledge Society their life chances are shrinking.”

However, low-income whites without college degrees “are conflicted in their partisan allegiance.” Though these individuals have shifted toward the Republican Party, “they frequently hold liberal economic views — that is, they support redistributionist measures from which they benefit.” One reason many of them voted for Trump in 2016 is that he took “liberal” positions like protecting Social Security and creating infrastructure jobs.

Low-income whites with college degrees were 1.5 percent of white voters in 1952. Now they are 14.3 percent of all voters and have become “the most loyal white Democratic constituency.”

Concerning racism, one study suggests that bias against groups such as Lithuanians, for example, are “substantively indistinguishable from those measured when Blacks are the target group,” suggesting that prejudice against “the other” is sometimes a large part of the problem with racism.

Another study examined the “multidimensionality” of racist attitudes. “There’s all sorts of feelings, attitudes, and knowledge surrounding issues of racial groups and racial inequality.” People may be resentful, fearful, unaware of structural racism, unwilling to be aware, and/or actually empathetic about inequality. This approach “proved especially effective in identifying voters who backed Obama in 2012 and switched to Trump in 2016.”

Edsall concludes his essay reflecting on a recent Pew poll that found 7 percent of the electorate “undecided.” He argues, to win back the White House, Democrats must address these voters with “pragmatic diplomacy and persuasion — and show a new level of empathy.”

Joy, Anger, Polarity, and Transcendence

Joy, Anger, Polarity, and Transcendence

Personal/Books

A Review
The Courage to Be (Third Edition)
Paul Tillch
Yale University Press (1952), 233 pages

Joy, Anger, Polarity, and Transcendence
By Wade Lee Hudson

How to handle polarities, related opposites, is tricky. In some cases, poles are symmetrical, of equal value, and can be balanced, as with positive and negative poles on a battery. Symmetrical polarity often applies to behavior, as with the tension between work and home. In this case, balance is appropriate. 

But with inner tensions, as with the conflict between love and hate, poles may be asymmetrical. One may be more powerful than the other. 

Paul Tillich, the most influential Protestant theologian of the 20th century, argued that the fundamental polarity between being and non-being, which includes the tension between life and death, calls for integration, rather than balance. This perspective seems to apply to love and hate, as well as trust and fear….

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An Open Letter to Cory Booker

An Open Letter to Cory Booker

After posting Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election, which includes praise for Senator Cory Booker, I watched “The Family,” a five-part Netflix documentary about The Family — the authoritarian, evangelical organization that owns luxurious residences in D.C. where elected officials are invited to live communally at bargain rents and convenes the National Prayer Breakfast, which has been addressed by every U.S. President since Dwight Eisenhower. After viewing that film, I discovered that Booker participates in a Bible study group led by Senator James Inhofe, a leader in The Family.

Given these discoveries, later today at a gathering for his Presidential campaign, I hope to ask Booker: How do you evaluate Senator’s Inhofe’s theology?…

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Restructuring Democracy

Restructuring Democracy
By Wade Lee Hudson

A powerful tyranny of the majority might sustain itself over time, but pluralistic democracy requires perpetual reform. No constitution, set of institutions, legislation, or electoral victory can rigidly translate popular views into public policy while at the same time protecting the rule of law and guaranteeing individual rights. Preserving and improving pluralistic democracy requires steadily dissolving selfish power and updating outmoded institutions.

Established political actors tend to isolate themselves from their constituents. They act in their own self-interest and the self-interest of wealthy benefactors. Political institutions are inherently based on power imbalances. Certain individuals play roles that others do not, which gives them greater power. Bureaucracies emerge. Experts and elites rule. Institutions become captured by powerful interests. Constitutions, with their focus on elections, limit how people can have a voice in the shaping of public policy. This dynamic calls for popular action not limited to elections. 

These realities lead some uncompromising populists to argue that democracy is not possible within any institutionalized system. They say democracy is possible only when the disenfranchised rise up, transgress the system, bring down established forms, and exercise power directly, if only temporarily….

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Old Brain, New Brain, Cross-Partisan Dialog

Old Brain, New Brain, Cross-Partisan Dialog

By Penn Garvin, Lois Passi, Wade Lee Hudson

Penn Garvin, an activist and organizer living in rural PA recently wrote the following:

How to Listen:

(1) Put aside your own beliefs and enter into new territory as an anthropologist

(2) Watch your reactions to what you hear – when do you get angry, defensive, scared, etc. – try to understand how you are being triggered

(3) Try to listen for what is the anger, fear, etc. underneath what the other person is saying – don't just listen to the ideas, policies, “what we should do” that they are saying

(4) Validate with the other person anything that you can – don't be fake because people sense that – but are there things being said that make sense to you even if you don't agree and maybe there are things being said that you agree with in part

(5) Don't try to work anything out or agree on anything at first – just be able to feed back to the person accurately what they have said to you so that you both know that they have been understood.

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Lois Passi, a Unitarian Universalist living in PA who works with her local United Way to end poverty, recently included in one of her sermons the following:

•Old and New Brain:

The old brain’s job is to detect threats to survival, and to respond to those threats either by fighting the enemy, fleeing from the enemy, or if neither of those is possible, hunkering down and enduring (fight, flight or freeze responses)….

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George Lakey and How We Win

George Lakey and How We Win

A review
How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning
George Lakey
Melville House Publishing, 2018, 221 pages

George Lakey and How We Win
By Wade Lee Hudson

George Lakey understands internalized oppression. If anyone would support mutual support for self-improvement, you’d think he would. But his new book, How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning, primarily relies on top-down training. 

Though the book presents many valuable recommendations concerning tactical nonviolence, as well as a compelling overview of Lakey’s rich, long history as an activist and nonviolence trainer, it does not propose intentional, open-ended, peer-to-peer support as a way to unlearn negative conditioning and become more fully human. 

How We Win includes some material about personal issues. It affirms the need to “avoid competition” between activist groups and to “establish productive relationships” between activists. …

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Mutual Support for Self-Improvement

Mutual Support for Self-Improvement
By Wade Lee Hudson

Love, altruism, spirituality, partnership, community, and cooperation thrive when humans feel safe. These feelings also emerge in response to disasters when we tap reservoirs of compassion and restore faith in humanity. 

But when we’re afraid, we become angry, selfish, materialistic, domineering, individualistic, and competitive. Economic insecurity inflames those emotions.  Social conditioning, mainstream media, TV, movies, political rhetoric, and highly competitive schools reinforce these negative tendencies.

Supportive, joy-filled communities that provide safety help us rise above our negative emotions. Families, extended families, close friendships, neighborhoods, churches, synagogues, mosques, sanghas, community-based organizations, and workplaces nurture growth. We can use fear and anger to stop injustice, spread positive emotions, and help each other become better human beings. 

Intentional commitments strengthen self-improvement efforts. Wedding vows and mission statements illustrate the value of placing commitments in writing. These affirmations remind people of their commitment, help them hold each other accountable, and spread their values to others. By adopting clear, written policies, organizations can encourage their members to support each other with their self-improvement. 

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Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election

Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election

Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election
By Wade Lee Hudson

Several Democratic candidates and some pundits have injected promising spiritual commentary into the 2020 presidential primary campaign. Some have even gone beyond discussion of public policy to address how ordinary Americans conduct their daily lives. Trump’s example has certainly opened the door for this conversation. However, to the best of my knowledge, none of those candidates and pundits have thus far affirmed the need for an explicit, intentional commitment to mutual support for self-improvement.

The most popular Google search term during the second round of debates was “Marianne Williamson.” This surge of interest in the New Age author was prompted by her statement:

This is part of the dark underbelly of American society: the racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.

We’ve never dealt with a figure like this in American history before. This man, our president, is not just a politician; he’s a phenomenon. And an insider political game will not be able to defeat it.… The only thing that will defeat him is if we have a phenomenon of equal force, and that phenomenon is a moral uprising of the American people.

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Charles Hartshorne: Neoclassical Metaphysics

Cultural/Polarity/Articles

Charles Hartshorne: Neoclassical Metaphysics
By Donald Wayne Viney
(Excerpts)

In spite of the extreme generality of metaphysical concepts, each such concept entails a polar contrast to it. Even the highly general concept “reality” requires that the concept “unreality” be assigned some meaning. …

For Hartshorne, then, each metaphysical concept has a corresponding contrast: necessity requires contingency, being requires becoming, unity requires variety, and so on, for any concept that is non-restrictively general, having applicability across possible states or state-descriptions. The two interdependent contraries in each case warrant the term dipolarity….

Monopolar theories allow expression of only one pole of a pair of contrasts; stated obversely, they completely deny one pole of a pair of contrasts. …

in his view, a neoclassical process theory of reality is structurally dipolar and offers comprehensive accommodation of both necessity and contingency, both causal determination and a degree of freedom from such determination, both internal and external relations, and so forth, throughout the range of metaphysical polar contrasts….

b. Inclusive Asymmetry/Concrete Inclusion

Hartshorne’s principle of dipolarity is complemented and qualified by a principle of inclusive asymmetry or concrete inclusion. As Hartshorne points out, the principle of dipolarity does not justify metaphysical dualism. One should distinguish between asserting that a metaphysical concept requires a contrary polar conception in its definition, and asserting that two polar concepts have an equivalent metaphysical status. It may well be the case that one concept requires the other polar concept in its definition, while the other polar concept both requires the polar contrast in its definition, and yet is itself the ground or source of that polar contrast. In other words, it may be the case, as Hartshorne asserts, that dipolarity is itself grounded in a logically asymmetrical relation between the contraries….

“p implies q” means that p both implies itself and q…

No comparable argument can show that being can include becoming without destroying the contrast. The concrete or definite, the creatively cumulative, is the inclusive element, and is the key to the abstract, not vice versa. The concrete and the abstract are neither sheer conjuncts as posited by varieties of dualism, nor some mysterious “third” entity, but, in consonance with both Whitehead’s ontological principle and Aristotle’s ontological priority of the actual, is rather, “the abstract in the concrete.”….

contingency in a relevant sense “includes” necessity rather than vice versa….

Once Again, the System Wins and the Democrats Lose

Political/Multi-issue/Articles

Once Again, the System Wins and the Democrats Lose
by Wade Lee Hudson

The Democrrats should have opened the Mueller hearing (months ago) with an expert counsel posing questions for 30 minutes to highlight the key points in Mueller’s report. That could have provided a clear, concise, compelling narrative that would have been devastating to Trump. But no. They chose to give all of their politicians face time on national television (in disjointed five-minute segments) to help them get re-elected. First things first. So the most compelling testimony happened in the last hour of a seven-hour hearing (which dragged on and on, losing most of the audience and the hearing’s impact).

As I discussed in “Democrats, Border Walls, and Social Polarization,” the Democrats acted in a similar manner with regard to the government shutdown over border-wall funding and the Kavanagh hearings. Maneuvering for re-ellection was primary then as well.

The System teaches everyone to climb social ladders and look down on those below and look up to those above. The goal is to boost egos and accumulate status, power, and/or money. Congress is a near-perfect example. Unfortunately, the System has conditioned all of us.

Political Tribalism: “Ideologues without Issues”

Political Tribalism: “Ideologues without Issues”

Political/Tribalism/Articles

Political Tribalism: “Ideologues without Issues”
by Wade Lee Hudson

…angry political tribes are tearing the country apart. Driven by primal passions, they call themselves “liberals” and “conservatives.” But their policy beliefs are secondary. What matters most is tribal victory. 

Americans largely agree on most specific public policies. But highly committed political people are like die-hard sports fans. They’re identify with their team and feel a deep need to crush the “enemy.” Tribal leaders, in their quest for the power to dominate, manipulate followers’ innate instincts. In particular, they promise to protect their tribe from threats by conquering “the other.” 

Political psychologist Lilliana Mason has marshalled considerable evidence in support of these conclusions.

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