I’ve been surprised that some of my most vociferous “conservative” sparring partners online now admit that they reluctantly voted for Donald Trump or didn’t vote for him at all in 2016. Rather, they voted against Hillary Clinton, desperate to “turn the page” from the too long-running Clinton soap-opera. Some would have voted for Joe Biden against Trump, they now say. This is a reminder of the malleability of American political beliefs, and how people often define themselves politically by what they are against rather than what they are for, in a kind of reactionary tribalism.
It’s also a reminder that only about 10 percent of the electorate pay close attention to politics and current events as an avocation or vocation. The rest have jobs to do, families to raise, hobbies to enjoy, and at best are paying half-attention.
The 2016 election results were not necessarily a reflection of a new sickness in America’s soul, a new meanspiritedness, deep prejudice and domineering racism, nor an indication of impending tribal warfare. While I read descriptions of a new American dystopia while living abroad, I certainly have not observed nor experienced it upon returning in late 2017.
“Liberals often don’t realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be,” writes Gerald Alexander, a UVA political science professor, in the NYT, in a piece titled “Liberals Aren’t As Smart As They Think They Are.” “In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel.”
Two new books, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels” by Jon Meacham, and “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America” by James Fallows and Deborah Fallows put the lie to the hypothesis of a new American dystopia. (Washington Post review.)
Online hostility should not be taken so seriously — it’s maybe more like opposing teams in a video game than representing deep-seated cultural, tribal and political divisions within America. I still believe that the best way to bridge these divisions is with in-person, face-to-face conversations, not online ones where it’s too easy to reduce those with differing opinions to cultural stereotypes and cardboard caricatures.
Carlos Lozada in The Washington Post: “…how different the conversations occurring throughout the country sound compared with Washington squabbles. “When we asked people what was on their minds, we’d hear about schools or drugs or downtown-redevelopment projects or new companies that might come to town,” James Fallows recalls. “Virtually never did anyone volunteer the staple themes from national politics — Do we trust the media? Which party do we dislike more? — that came to dominate so much of the national news.” It’s an encouraging thought, that local unity can bypass national dissension.”