One of the trends that I’ve found most alarming is the decline in friendships with people you disagree with. I’ve noticed on Facebook and in some social interactions a tendency of people to want to interact only with people whom they agree with and to demonize anyone who disagrees. I have to admit that at times, I’ve fallen into that trap. But I’ve also had many conservative friends over the years, and realize that there are just as many different varieties of conservatives as there are different varieties of progressives. I don’t have as many conservative friends as I used to. But the conservative friends who remain remind me that they are far more complex human beings than conservative stereotypes would give them credit for.
During the past 4 years, my biggest area of contention with conservatives has been over Donald Trump. I tend to get along better with my anti-Trump conservative friends and relatives than with my conservative friends who support Trump. Even with my friends and relatives who support Donald Trump, however, I still try to see their complexity as human beings. Though I disdain Donald Trump, I do not disdain Trump’s supporters. In fact, I deeply love and care about those Trump supporters who happen to be my friends and relatives. These same people have been there for me during my down moments and were friends to me when I needed a friend. My affection for them does not diminish just because I disagree with their politics.
It’s important for this country to get back to that point where people of differing views can debate the issues and find common ground when the debate reaches an impasse. At the beginning of our nation’s founding, there have been debates between Federalists and Republicans over the role of government, the industrial North and the agricultural South, the needs of the community and the rights of the individual, majority rule tempered by minority rights. In more authoritarian countries, one side of the political spectrum tries to eliminate the other: left wing dictatorships try to jail or kill conservatives; right wing regimes try to silence or kill leftists. One of the things that our country has benefited from has been the debate on diverse ideas. Progressives, moderates and conservatives are all right some of the time, and we are all wrong some of the time. Our country has benefited from the ideas of the Abolitionists, Women Suffragists, Wobblies, Progressive Republicans, labor organizers, democratic Socialists, New Deal Democrats, civil rights activists, feminists, LGBTQ activists, and others.
Republican Thomas Jefferson and Federalist John Adams were close friends even though they had great political disagreements. Liberal George McGovern and conservative Barry Goldwater were close friends in spite of their differing views on the Vietnam War. Liberal Ted Kennedy and conservative Orrin Hatch were close friends who collaborated on many bipartisan bills, including the American With Disabilities Act, the Ryan White AIDs Act, the Serve America Act, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
At this moment, I think the conservative movement has gone off the deep end. I’m hoping that saner conservatives can fight to regain control of the right wing from the extremists in the conservative movement. At times in the past, the Left has also gone off the deep end at times. I’m hoping that we can all get to the point that conservative Republican Jeff Flake hopes the Republican Party can return to: where Republicans can see Democrats as competing friends and not as intractable foes.
“Haidt’s writing and interviews, and our conversations, have clarified for me why we are so tempted to surround ourselves with only like-minded people and caricature those with whom we disagree…
…Around 2008, Haidt became increasingly concerned by how politically polarized America was becoming, and polarization has only worsened over the past dozen years. ‘I’ve gotten more and more alarmed every year since then,’ he told me, ‘and there are several trends that are very disturbing,’ including the rise of ‘affective polarization,’ or the mutual dislike and hate each political side feels for the other. ‘When there’s so much hatred, a democracy can’t work right,’ he said. ‘You can’t get compromise. You get exactly the situation that the Founders feared, that [James] Madison wrote about in ‘Federalist 10,’ which is faction, which is people care more about defeating the other side than they do about the common good’…
…I asked Haidt to explain to me precisely why it’s important that our prejudices and biases be challenged. ‘If you actually want to find the truth—if you’re a scientist or if you’re working at, say, the Defense Intelligence Agency, where your job is really to find the truth—you have to overcome each person’s preferred way of thinking, which is, find evidence for why I am right,’ he replied… ‘The only way to do it is to have someone who doesn’t share your confirmation bias engage with you. That’s why the Catholic Church created the devil’s advocate. They literally said, ‘Your job is to find reasons why we’re wrong.’’
I mentioned to Haidt that in my experience it makes a huge difference if you can establish a respectful and even warm relationship with people with whom you disagree, which allows both individuals to critique the other without feeling that either of you is under attack. When we feel we’re under attack, the armor goes up; the willingness to listen to the perspective of others goes down. If you don’t have a personal relationship with someone, I said, and you try to engage in rigorous debate, particularly in this hyper-polarized political moment, it’s often like shooting BBs against a brick wall. The arguments just bounce off.”