Tag Archives: polarization

Jonathan Haidt’s Greatest Fear

I just listened to an interview with the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in which he was asked what his greatest fear was. It’s the same as my own. His reply was quite powerful, I thought. Here it is:

“What worries me most is that while almost all of our problems are solvable, I fear that we are not going to solve a lot of them because of our rising political polarization and rising distrust, all of which preceded social media but is now greatly amplified on social media.”

“So I do actually fear that the United States may end as a nation. That is, some time in the next 30 or 40 years, it’s at least conceivable that states will secede or that there will be a necessity of the military to come out and put down some unrest.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do think that democracy is difficult. Democracy, as the founding fathers knew, tends to commit suicide, and I think that unless we pay a lot more attention to what we are doing, I fear that our democracy could commit suicide.

“So I think that understanding what’s happening to us, understanding rising political polarization, improving our political institutions to make them more trustworthy, less corrupt, is an urgent national mission.

It is an urgent mission—perhaps the most urgent, because if we can’t overcome our own differences and work together, we won’t be able to solve any of the daunting problems we face.


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The New York Times Missed the Chance of a Lifetime

When Trump turned the Republican Party inside out and won the 2016 election, millions of conservative and centrist Americans were left feeling disgusted and politically homeless. This was the chance of a lifetime for every liberal media outlet in the country. All they had to do was open their doors to centrists and moderate conservatives, broadening the range of views represented in their pages, and they could have doubled or tripled their readership—and their influence.

If The New York Times had done this, it might have become a powerful unifying force in a time when we need healing more than anything else. It could have made great strides in bridging political divides and reducing the rampant tribalism that is now destroying us. Instead, it seems determined to become the Breitbart of the Left. And now, with Bari Weiss’s departure, The Times has lost one of its few remaining moderate voices. Her resignation letter is well worth reading. Here is a particularly incisive quote from it:

“The lessons that ought to have followed the election—lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”

It’s not too late for The Times to turn things around and seize the opportunity to expand its reach and become a force for healing. But under its present leadership and with its current toxic culture, it seems unlikely that this will happen. Hopefully, another media outlet will step in and do so. Otherwise, we will remain trapped in this downward spiral of polarization and tribalism.

I am a liberal, and I have been disgusted by Donald Trump from the very beginning. His incompetence, narcissism, divisive rhetoric, and utter disregard for truth continue to tear our country apart. When The New York Times published pieces that criticized him—which is part of the media’s job—he lashed out, dubbing them “the failing New York Times.” They had a chance to prove him wrong—to be bigger and better than him, to be unifying rather than divisive—but they blew it.

The greatest irony of all is that the tactics of The Times seem perfectly designed to help Trump get re-elected. The far Left’s hyperfocus on political correctness and their dismissive attitudes toward moderates and conservatives played a big role in stirring up support for Trump in the first place. And now they’re doubling down on this approach.

As Trump would say: SAD.

Our own tribalism is the greatest threat to our country right now. Trump is a symptom of that tribalism, not the cause of it. Voting him out of office is imperative, but it’s not enough. If we get rid of him without also dialing down our polarization, then we’ll only be paving the way for someone else just like him—or worse—to come along.

We need healing. We need unification. We need grace and civility. Join me in creating an anti-tribalism initiative. Use the hashtag #EndTribalism, and in all of your interactions, do what you can to reduce tribalism and polarization. You can buy anti-tribalism T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other merchandise here.