Nearly half of all Americans have stopped talking to someone about political topics because of something they have said in person or online. Our culture of contempt continues to divide us and make governing together more difficult. In this episode of the How Do We Fix It podcast, Peter Coleman, a leading expert on conflict resolution, discusses a way forward.
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Leveraging big ideas
Coalition building is the bread and butter of the democracy reform movement. Working together helps organizations expand their reach and grow momentum for change.
A recent example of this collaborative nature is the merger, announced Tuesday, between Civic Nation, a civic engagement nonprofit, and We The Action, a community of more than 41,000 lawyers who offer pro bono services to address issues that include voting rights, racial justice and immigration.
Civic Nation houses several initiatives started during the Obama administration or by Barack and Michelle Obama themselves after they left the White House. We The Action will join the nonprofit as its seventh venture, alongside initiatives like It's On Us and When We All Vote.
"Civic Nation continues to grow and we are excited to welcome We The Action into the fold," said Civic Nation CEO Kyle Lierman. "We look forward to engaging their community of lawyers to continue to protect voting rights, advance gender equity, combat the Covid-19 pandemic and respond to crises wherever they arise."
Other recent mergers within the democracy reform community include End Citizens United and Let America Vote, Make America Dinner Again and Living Room Conversation, and the Bridge Alliance and The Fulcrum.
Collaboration has been integral to Pearce Godwin's work with the Listen First Project, which aims to bring people together across differences. When first starting the organization in 2013, Godwin said his "instinct was to see if we can have a greater impact by working together, by collaborating to reach farther and impact greater than any one of us could alone."
The Listen First Project has now grown its bridging divides coalition to more than 350 organizations across the country. Their collaborations consist of "all hands on deck" national efforts and smaller, more focused initiatives in local communities.
A newcomer to the Listen First Coalition is The Great Reset, a nonprofit that encourages civil conversations around divisive issues, such as health care, immigration and racial inequality. The Great Reset started two years ago with a simple gathering of people around Kalinda Fisher's dining table in Nashville, Tenn., and from there it has grown to establish community roundtables in 26 states and 10 countries.
Joining the Listen First Coalition has been beneficial for a small nonprofit like The Great Reset, Fisher said, because she can connect with other organizations and learn from them, rather than "reinventing the wheel" herself.
"I was simply thrilled to connect to other organizations that are working to empower others to have conversations and civil dialogue," Fisher said. "It's not about any one of us getting bigger and better and faster and further, it's about all of us doing well. And so that collaboration, to me, is imperative."
At a time when there are dire threats to American democracy and Congress is mired by partisan dysfunction, the only way to find real solutions is by "mobilizing we the people," said Carolyn Lukensmeyer, former executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and founder of AmericaSpeaks.
A vast majority of Americans know about these issues and they want to do something about it, but they may not have the tools to do so or know how to get involved, Lukensmeyer said. As a result, over the last several years, there's been an explosion of groups dedicated to strengthening American democracy and building collaboration from the community level to a national scale.
"Now more than ever in the 30 years that I've been doing this work, it is a time where collaboration is both needed and more possible," Lukensmeyer said.
Anyone on the frontlines of the effort to bridge America's partisan divides knows there is no silver bullet for this work — no one game-changing app or intervention that will swiftly transform the way Americans engage with each other across our divides. Shifting social norms and fostering a pluralist ethos in America requires a multipronged approach and a long-game mindset.
But we also know our democracy hangs in the balance and we don't have the luxury of time. So as we elevate and scale standout initiatives that are achieving measurable success, we need to continue identifying untapped opportunities for widespread and dramatic impact on the problem of toxic polarization.
We believe popular entertainment is one such opportunity. TV shows, movies, short-form videos and other types of on-screen entertainment offer unique ways to reach Americans at scale, even those not already predisposed to want to bridge divides. Entertainment can play a vital role in popularizing new social norms around how we engage across lines of difference, and a growing number of entertainment content creators, Hollywood executives, social scientists and bridging practitioners are recognizing its power to do just that. Until now, these stakeholders haven't had a home or a way to find and collaborate with each other.
The newly launched Center for Entertainment & Civic Health is this home. The center aims to galvanize the entertainment industry to address declining civic cohesion and harness the power of storytelling to bridge our partisan divides. "Our country is at a critical moment, and entertainment can play an important role in helping bridge the gap between left and right in America. The Center for Entertainment & Civic Health is a new center of gravity for Hollywood to explore entertainment's impact on polarization and its potential to foster civic health and pluralist norms," said Dave Caplan, showrunner for the hit ABC show "The Conners."
On Oct. 16, the Center for Entertainment & Civic Health will host its kickoff event, a free virtual summit titled "Hollywood and Storytelling in a Divided America." This unprecedented convening will gather entertainment industry stakeholders from across the partisan spectrum under one virtual roof to explore entertainment's untapped potential to help fix a divided America. Some of the industry's most celebrated content creators, entertainment executives, bridgers, experts from academia, and leading nonprofit organizations will come together to explore the question "Can popular entertainment save a fracturing America?"
Hollywood has wielded the unique power of storytelling since its earliest days, but the last two decades have seen the industry fully embrace "social impact entertainment." The notion that content can both entertain and drive social change has gained traction throughout the industry at breathtaking speed.
We believe the time has come for Hollywood to tackle toxic polarization as an urgent social impact issue of its own. The same energy and talent that have been brought to bear on other critical issues in our society can be applied to our crisis of division. We've seen the role entertainment can play in advancing a range of social causes; now is the moment for the industry to explore the power of storytelling and entertainment to mitigate polarization and bridge deepening divides within our country.
Storytellers are among the most influential agents in our society; they can use their superpowers to help us see each other in new ways and imagine new possibilities for America. They can help us reimagine the meaning of "national unity" and reinforce healthier social norms around how we navigate our conflicts.
Renowned international peacebuilding organizations like Search for Common Ground have recognized the power of entertainment to transform intergroup conflict in conflict zones abroad for decades. As Americans, we're not accustomed to thinking of the United States as a conflict zone in need of peacebuilding interventions. Yet recent events have illustrated that we are not immune from the kind of domestic intergroup violence with which other regions in the world have long struggled. We have an opportunity to interrupt the cycle of escalating partisan hostility before further damage to our social fabric and institutions is wrought, and we would do well to examine examples of entertainment media being employed to reduce intergroup bias and hostility in conflict zones abroad.
Elevating toxic polarization as a distinct impact issue represents a unique challenge for Hollywood. While issues like climate change and racial justice neatly align with the priorities of an industry known for its more left-leaning predilections, polarization is different. Embracing the cause of depolarization and partisan bridge-building requires a different mindset and calls on stakeholders to think about their partisan "others" in ways that may feel unfamiliar. Individuals and institutions must be willing to commit to the goal of humanizing one tribe to the other.
The goal of this humanization is not to convince one side or the other to abandon its moral convictions or embrace an opposing ideology. Nor is it an effort to push Americans into the "middle" and away from bold positions on social issues. Rather, the goal is to create the necessary preconditions for rational debate and collaborative problem-solving. No one need leave their convictions at the door. If entertainment succeeds in this endeavor, the good news is that research shows there is more common ground to be plowed than either side recognizes now.
The economic and cultural forces that sustain and profit from polarization are strong. Are storytelling and entertainment powerful enough to combat those? We believe they are, and we're enlisting stakeholders throughout the entertainment industry to take up the challenge.
Author and policy expert Robert Kagan drew broad notice with his Washington Post essay declaring that the nation is "already in a constitutional crisis" and may be on the cusp of "mass violence," but he is hardly the first to forecast democracy's demise.
The apocalyptic tone of much democracy writing is unsurprising given the magnitude of the crises facing the nation and world. But there is a danger that bleak alarmism can itself corrode democracy still further. The "genre of disaster prediction," as newsletter writer Robert Hubbell dubbed it in his response to Kagan, tends to stoke paralysis and despair.
This very demoralization is toxic to democracy. When the Economist Intelligence Unit first downgraded the United States from a "full" to a "flawed" democracy in 2017, it was because public trust in political institutions had tanked. "Popular confidence in government and political parties is a vital component of the concept of democracy" embodied by the index, the report noted.
When journalists, thought leaders and even democracy advocates harp exclusively on the ways government and institutions have failed, citizens lose faith. And without at least some faith in the system, Americans drop out. If all is lost in any case, why vote, speak up, follow the news, or engage in community and civic life?
That's why democracy advocates must go beyond prophesying doom and do the hard work of envisioning, and championing, a path forward. It's not that dire warnings aren't called for, or threats not real. It's that raising the alarm is not enough. Indeed, relentless doomsaying risks obscuring the opportunities that can arise from moments of disruption.
This column, The Civic Voice, will spotlight civic solutions and success stories as an antidote to 'round-the-clock bad news. As solutions-focused sites like the Solutions Journalism Network, the Good News Network and the new online magazine Reasons to Be Cheerful attest, Americans are thirsty for a bit of hope.
The value of good news goes beyond spreading cheer. Publishing a story about what's working "is the ultimate form of holding power to account," said Reasons to Be Cheerful co-editor Christine McLaren in an interview. That's because "it's giving people a story to point to and say, 'Look! It doesn't need to be this way! There are people doing it differently and here's how.'"
Spreading good news may sound "corny," acknowledged journalist Roxanne Patel Shepelavy, writing about "Where to Find Hope" in The Philadelphia Citizen. But hope is more important than ever, "because we can't heal what ails us if we don't think a cure exists."
So where can democracy advocates find hope? Here are a few signs that American democracy, while buffeted on many fronts, has as much (if not more) potential to revive and thrive as to collapse with a whimper.
Voting Rights. The unprecedented state-level assault on voting rights since the 2020 election, stoked by Donald Trump's "Big Lie," constitutes perhaps the most direct threat to American democracy today.
Yet on the good-news front, Arizona Republicans' highly criticized 2020 vote audit reaffirmed that "truth is truth," and gave President Biden an even bigger win. And the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore key Voting Rights Act protections, is winning serious attention on Capitol Hill.
A surprising number of states, moreover, are making it easier to vote, not harder. While 19 states have enacted 33 laws that limit voting since the 2020 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, the number of laws that expanded voter access is actually far larger, totaling 62 in 25 states.
These laws to facilitate voting, with measures like expanded early nd mail-in voting, "do not balance the scales," the Brennan Center asserts. But according to The Washington Post's Perry Bacon Jr., the voting rights expansion is one of several "groundbreaking initiatives" in blue states, from "Baby Bonds" in Connecticut to greenhouse gas cuts in Oregon, that offer "a vision for a better America."
Constitutional Reforms. On Capitol Hill, as breathless reports remind us daily, partisan and intraparty disputes have stalled infrastructure legislation and placed the nation at risk of default. But such congressional stalemates themselves may usher in important constitutional changes, argued John F. Kowal and Wilfred U. Codrington III recently in Politico.
Constitutional amendments tend to come in waves and "typically have followed periods of deep division and gridlock like ours," wrote Kowal and Codrington, who authored a book on the topic. "In fact, history suggests that periods of extreme political polarization, when the normal channels of legal change are blocked off due to partisan gridlock and regional divides, can usher in periods of constitutional reform to get the political system functioning again."
People Power. Election law expert Richard Hasen's law review article warning that partisans in state legislatures, election offices and even the Supreme Court may usurp voters' choices in 2024 was plenty sobering.
But Hasen's article also emphasized that voters have a way of having the last word. He noted that public pushback helped defeat some of the worst elements of recent state-level voting restrictions, and that organizing and political action "will be needed to reinforce rule-of-law norms in elections." He also suggested "preparing for mass, peaceful protests in the event of attempts to subvert fair election outcomes."
Hasen's article prompted yet another flurry of articles on democracy's possible collapse. But Hasen's analysis spoke not just of gloom, but also hope. Democracy will be stronger if the hopeful side of the story gets out as well.
This is the second entry in a two-part op-ed series on institutional racism in American medicine.
A little over a year before the coronavirus pandemic reached our shores, the racism problem in U.S. health care was making big headlines.
But it wasn't doctors or nurses being accused of bias. Rather, a study published in Science concluded that a predictive health care algorithm had, itself, discriminated against Black patients.
The story originated with Optum, a subsidiary of insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, which had designed an application to identify high-risk patients with untreated chronic diseases. The company's ultimate goal was to help re-distribute medical resources to those who'd benefit most from added care. And to figure out who was most in need, Optum's algorithm assessed the cost of each patient's past treatments.
Unaccounted for in the algorithm's design was this essential fact: The average Black patient receives $1,800 less per year in total medical care than a white person with the same set of health problems. And, sure enough, when the researchers went back and re-ranked patients by their illnesses (rather than the cost of their care), the percentage of Black patients who should have been enrolled in specialized care programs jumped from 18 percent to 47 percent.
Journalists and commentators pinned the blame for racial bias on Optum's algorithm. In reality, technology wasn't the problem. At issue were the doctors who failed to provide sufficient medical care to the Black patients in the first place. Meaning, the data was faulty because humans failed to provide equitable care.
Artificial intelligence and algorithmic approaches can only be as accurate, reliable and helpful as the data they're given. If the human inputs are unreliable, the data will be, as well.
Let's use the identification of breast cancer as an example. As much as one-third of the time, two radiologists looking at the same mammogram will disagree on the diagnosis. Therefore, if AI software were programmed to act like humans, the technology would be wrong one-third of the time.
Instead, AI can store and compare tens of thousands of mammogram images — comparing examples of women with cancer and without — to detect hundreds of subtle differences that humans often overlook. It can remember all those tiny differences when reviewing new mammograms, which is why AI is already estimated to be 10 percent more accurate than the average radiologist.
What AI can't recognize is whether it's being fed biased or incorrect information. Adjusting for bias in research and data aggregation requires that humans acknowledge their faulty assumptions and decisions, and then modify the inputs accordingly.
Correcting these types of errors should be standard practice by now. After all, any research project that seeks funding and publication is required to include an analysis of potential bias, based on the study's participants. As an example, investigators who want to compare people's health in two cities would be required to modify the study's design if they failed to account for major differences in age, education or other factors that might inappropriately tilt the results.
Given how often data is flawed, the possibility of racial bias should be explicitly factored into every AI project. With universities and funding agencies increasingly focused on racial issues in medicine, this expectation has the potential to become routine in the future. Once it is, AI will force researchers to confront bias in health care. As a result, the conclusions and recommendations they provide will be more accurate and equitable.
Thirteen months into the pandemic, Covid-19 continues to kill Black individuals at a rate three times higher than white people. For years, health plans and hospital leaders have talked about the need to address health disparities like these. And yet, despite good intentions, the solutions they put forth always look a lot like the failed efforts of the past.
Addressing systemic racism in medicine requires that we analyze far more data (all at once) than we do today. AI is the perfect application for this task. What we need is a national commitment to use these types of technologies to answer medicine's most urgent questions.
There is no antidote to the problem of racism in medicine. But combining AI with a national commitment to root out bias in health care would be a good start, putting our medical system on a path toward antiracism.
In this episode of How to Win Friends & Save The Republic from the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers, American Promise president and regular Fulcrum columnist Jeff Clements discusses the work aimed at winning the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and ensuring that every American has an equal vote and an equal voice.
Pearl is a clinical professor of plastic surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine and is on the faculty of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He is a former CEO of The Permanente Medical Group.
This is the first entry in a two-part op-ed series on institutional racism in American medicine.
The story of American medicine is one of incredible scientific advancements, from the use of penicillin to treat syphilis and other bacterial infections to the countless biomedical breakthroughs made possible by cell-line research.
Too often, however, these stories ignore an uncomfortable truth: Some of our nation's most significant medical discoveries were made possible through the mistreatment of Black patients — from the exploitation of African American farmers during the Tuskegee syphilis experiments to the tragic case of Henrietta Lacks, a Black patient whose cells were stolen by doctors and used for decades of cell-line research.
Racism is woven into our nation's medical past but is also part of our present, as evidenced by the Covid-19 crisis. From testing to treatment, Black and Latino patients have received a lower quality and quantity of care compared white Americans.
The biases of individual doctors and researchers aren't always the biggest barriers to equitable health care. Often, the problem is institutional.
Institutional (or systemic) racism is invisible yet omnipresent. It is woven into the fabric of American health care, embedded into the practices, policies and perceptions of the entire industry.
At some point during medical school, all future doctors are instructed to treat everyone equally, regardless of a person's race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Studies have shown just how difficult this edict proves in practice.
Even when physicians have the best of intentions, their actions are beset by unconscious prejudices. Researchers have found that two out of three clinicians harbor what is called an "implicit bias" against African Americans and Latinos. These are biases that exist outside the doctor's awareness but are nonetheless harmful to minority patients.
In one example, epidemiological data demonstrate that Black individuals have experienced a two to three times higher likelihood of dying from Covid-19 than white patients.
Physicians attribute this discrepancy to the "social determinants of health," a phrase that encapsulates the many aspects of life that influence our health, including where we live, work, play and socialize. But before we accept this explanation and let health care professionals off the hook, consider what we learned early in the pandemic: According to national studies, white patients who came to the emergency room with symptoms likely to be Covid-19 were tested far more often than Black patients with identical symptoms.
A distressing example of institutional racism involves childbirth. Most Americans don't realize it, but the United States ranks last among all developed nations in maternal mortality (the measure of how often mothers die during or soon after childbirth).
Most of these deaths could be prevented, and yet the maternal mortality rate has been increasing in the United States since 2000. Two decades after The Journal of Perinatal Education first described the issue of racial disparities in maternal care as "alarming," Black women remain three times more likely to die from childbirth than white women.
Obstetricians know the most common causes of maternal death are (a) unrecognized bleeding and (b) uncontrolled high blood pressure. What they can't explain is exactly why a woman's skin color has such a significant influence on her risk of dying. Ask doctors what's going on and they'll list a number of contributing factors, ranging from the higher risk of hypertension in Black patients to greater life stresses to differences in diet and education.
But none of those factors help explain this: When the treating clinician is Black, the disparity in deaths between white and Black mothers all but vanishes.
The problem in understanding this discrepancy isn't a lack of data. Almost all U.S. hospitals have comprehensive inpatient electronic health records that provide a rich tapestry of details about the women giving birth and the care they receive. And as of 2017, all 50 states were required to add a standardized "maternal mortality checkbox" to their data reporting systems.
And yet we still don't know why the race of the doctor makes such a difference or how to close the gap when the physician is white. We also don't know if the race of the nurses providing the care matters. We also don't know whether the frequency of blood-pressure monitoring or care checks varies based on the patient's race, the staff member's race or both.
Most medical research focuses on the causations or correlations between two easily isolated data sets (like the race of doctors and the mortality of patients). Addressing systemic racism in medicine requires that we analyze far more data (all at once) than we do today.
In my next writing, I will explore how artificial intelligence might be the perfect application for this task but also how predictive health care algorithms used in AI can, themselves, have design flaws that result in unintended discriminatory biases.
Stein is an organizational and political strategist who has worked with dozens of for-profit, not-for-profit and political and public sector organizations over the past 50 years. He currently serves as a researcher/writer, consultant and champion of the work of cross-partisan cultural and political organizations and initiatives. This is the first in Stein's new monthly column, Cross-Partisan Visions.
The dawn of the third decade of the 21st century has ushered in an age of hyperanxiety.
On every continent, and in virtually every country, conventional wisdoms are being shredded. Changed circumstances and altered conditions are the predominant constants. Clarity about the future is obfuscated in the fog of cultural, economic and political upheaval. Certainty is primarily the refuge of extremists across the cultural and political spectrum.
This toxic stew threatens personal mental health, social and political cohesion, security, justice and prosperity everywhere, and the very foundations of civilization.
Our hyperanxiety is being fed by powerful forces that have been unleashed by negligence, poor stewardship of our natural world, ineffective governance, wanton consumerism and greed. These forces include, but are not limited to, population-growth-based natural resource depletion; climate-induced fires, floods and storms; mass human migrations; species extinctions; pandemics; escalating economic inequality; civil and regional wars; racial reckonings; and the increasing avalanche of disinformation and conspiracy theories being manufactured and spread by hyperpartisan organs of mass communication and social media.
There are no glib answers, quick fixes or short cuts back to truth, trust, reason and civility. Whatever the future holds, and however traumatic and relentless the age of hyperanxiety ultimately becomes, we have no choice but to do the painstakingly difficult work of discovering new faith in ourselves, one another and our institutions.
And the diligence and resilience we are called now to muster can only be animated, and therefore can only emanate, from a new global consciousness and crystalline clarity about our collective commitment to meaningful changes that improve human life and sustain our humanity.
This is the hope and promise of "Cross-Partisan Visions." In the months and years ahead, we will explore how people from across traditional divides can imagine, and therefore collaboratively implement, strategies to realize their common interests and shared destinies. In turn, this will require a deep commitment to building a new values-based constituency with a collective vision and a compelling new cultural and political voice.
Such a constituency will be realized when, initially, hundreds of thousands and, ultimately, millions of people pledge allegiance to a "Cross-Partisan Creed":
To be avid champions and tireless practitioners of constructive dialogue, deliberation and problem-solving with diverse people across cultural, racial, ethnic, political and gender divides in order to collectively perfect our union by optimizing liberty, justice and opportunity for all.
Fidelity in these times to this Cross-Partisan Creed will advance a modern "Cross-Partisan Ethos" which:
- Consciously considers a range of perspectives, philosophical and ideological differences that respect conservative, moderate and progressive principles.
- Enthusiastically fosters the curiosity, passionate exploration, and creative inquiry necessary to discover our commonalities in spite of our traditional divides.
- Believes anew in the ageless human, religious and philosophical values of truth, trust, reason and civility.
- Respects the dignity of people across traditional cultural, economic, political, racial and gender divides in order to optimize collaboration on evidence-based solutions to human, community, national and global problems.
- Accepts the difficult fact that many, perhaps most, 21st century exigencies and policy complexities cannot be resolved by anachronistic 20th century-contrived ideologies and bygone realities.
- Finds the will and honors the fact that we — Republicans, Democrats and independents — need one another to effectively address, and accept our fair share of responsibility for ameliorating, the most vexing problems of our times.
Who can honestly say they are satisfied with the government? Government is an easy target for our angst and woes. We pay taxes, but what do we get for it? Seems like an endless and hopeless customer service failure. But the government isn't doing anything to us. The government is us.
When Ronald Reagan identified government as the problem in the 1980s, he intended to promote the idea of smaller government and more personal freedom. Given our endless human dissatisfaction with the government, a majority of people gravitated to his message. At the time, it was a clever turn of phrase that many of us took with good humor. But embedded in his cleverness were the seeds of separation, distrust and contempt for the system of government itself.
At the time, most people considered the government inefficient, but necessary. Business guru Peter F. Drucker is credited with saying he wasn't in favor of small or big government, but effective government.
Today, a sizable percentage of our fellow Americans consider the government to be corrupt, evil and tyrannical. Even elected officials, with power to make the government more effective in serving the common good, share this view.
But what if we have it all wrong?
A governing system is a significant part of how we manage to live in groups peacefully. The Constitution of the United States set in motion a governing system that allowed for self-interest to co-exist with common good. Not to dominate the common good, but to co-exist with it. This was radical in the 18th century when we were subjects to the monarchy — where only the monarch's self-interest mattered. Instead, we agreed to abide by the rule of law, and the government was granted credibility by the will of the people.
In order for our democratic republic to function effectively, we have to be as equally committed to the rule of law and the rights of others as we are to our individual freedom. It's a trifecta of priorities that cannot be separated.
Leading into the Great Depression, the stock market was at an all-time high. The oligarchs were profiting from a newly industrialized nation. Workers — from children to the elderly — were paid poverty wages to eke out their living. Alcohol prohibition led to increased violence and crime levels. Streets were filled with hungry and homeless people. The small government advocated by big business was failing to provide for the common good of all citizens.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw a role for government in ameliorating the excess of big business that dominated the self-interests of a few over the needs of the public. Like the Founding Fathers, he sought to disrupt the status quo where big business had influenced the government to benefit themselves. FDR's "New Deal" was a series of reforms that gave us a 40-hour work week, eliminated child labor, oversaw massive infrastructure projects and provided Social Security for the elderly.
Passing the dozen or so laws that made up the New Deal took time — about eight years. It involved obstruction by the Republicans. Some of the laws passed were struck down by a conservative Supreme Court. The Democrats threatened to pack the courts with more progressive judges. Within the Democratic coalition of women, African Americans and left-wing intellectuals, deals were struck.
In times of unrest and uncertainty, we look to scholars and pundits to predict the future.
In his write up in The Washington Post, Robert Kagan predicts that Trump loyalists will be running elections in counties across the nation and the state legislatures that have given themselves the power to invalidate election results. He labels this a current and ongoing constitutional crisis, which will lead to civil war. The demagogue wins in his analysis.
Robert Hubbell takes a more measured approach in his rebuttal, arguing that the violence pre-supposed by Kagan is a form of trauma from watching the events of Jan. 6, 2021m in a loop. He states that the Constitution allows for this and will be followed. Should election interference in 2024 invalidate the presidential election, the speaker of the House will become president, the courts will have a say and we'll have a new election in 2028. The rule of law wins in his analysis.
I'm more certain our path will follow the historical pattern. We have 14 months until the midterm elections. And 62 months until the next presidential election. That's a lot of time for Congress to pass legislation in the interests of the common good. It's a herculean task, to be sure. We need more people to vote. The will of the people wins in my analysis.
"Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window. " ― Peter Drucker
Yes, predicting the future is fraught with risk. We'll have to live it out.
The centrist and progressive wings of the Democratic Party are either giving birth to a compromise to move President Biden's agenda (and their agendas) forward, or they are strangling each other.
Make no mistake, the drama on Capitol Hill this week is not only or even chiefly about whether Biden's agenda will move forward. The drama is chiefly about the health and direction of the Democratic Party. And although the Republicans of course are also players on the Washington stage — especially concerning the debt ceiling issue and a potential government shutdown — the dominant themes are controlled by the Democrats.
The centrists, especially Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, want the infrastructure bill to be passed by the House and they want a scaled-down version of the social-services-oriented $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. The progressives, especially the group led by "the Squad "and Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, want the full $3.5 trillion and a demand that the Senate agree to it before they vote yes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The fighting from afar looks like good old fashioned leveraging and horse trading. We all know that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are making promises and deals behind closed doors and Biden is offering what he can to get what he can.
In this context it is useful to ask the centrists and the progressives if they are relying too much on traditional bargaining leverage and the rigidly defined concepts of their faction.
A more constructive approach at this stage is to employ resource leverage to transform the Democratic Party and better position the president to lead it. With resource leverage, a concept that has become more widely known and used in the last generation, you get the most from the least. With information technology, for example, you get 1 million emails to 1 million potential customers or voters — from one email.
The concept of leverage from ancient physics involves using a minimum input to create a maximum output with a fulcrum of some kind. With resource leverage, the levers may be social or political or economic or psychological rather than physical. Moreover, resources leveraged creatively generate new products, services and brands.
Resource leverage goes beyond traditional physical leverage and traditional bargaining leverage.
The question for the Democrats is what resources can they leverage to transform their factions and their party to serve the nation? Rather than using threats of withholding votes as leverage to get what they want, how can they leverage resources, which includes relationships, to transform their party and our country?
Presumably the solution finds a new center for the Democrats which rejects old concepts about moderation and progressivism. Legislators must break out of their molds and not only compromise but redefine.
Getting from traditional bargaining leverage and negotiations driven by threats to creative resource leveraging is extremely difficult. But greatness requires creativity and imagination and not just dedication and hard negotiating.
The solution, whatever it is, concerns the entire Democratic Party and the nation overall. In truth, any viable solution must address financial leverage as well, since the debt ceiling issue revolves around this third critical concept of leverage.
Indeed, leveraging is not only central to the strategy needed to resolve the crisis, it is central to the content of the crisis itself. This should come as no surprise since leveraging is, at least I have argued, the dominant theme of our time.
If the focus given by the Democrats is on passing the president's agenda, the effort may fail. At the same time, the one person in Washington who can transcend transactional bargaining leverage for transformational resource leverage is President Biden.
As co-publisher of The Fulcrum, Debilyn Molineaux's name is synonymous with cross-partisan bridge building and the importance of civil dialogue in a democratic society. In this episode of How to Win Friends and Save the Republic from the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers, Debilyn discusses her path from advertising to being a candidate for public office to co-founding some of the most influential bridging organizations in the democracy ecosystem.
There are some phrases that just feel good to say. "Collaborative problem solving," "hearing all sides," "working together," "finding common ground." What could possibly be controversial about any of that? Yet one such phrase "bridging divides," which seems at first glance like an obviously positive intention, has itself become controversial and sometimes even divisive.
So before you rush into the battlefield in between the armies of the "right" and "left," stop, look and listen. You will be far more effective if you know how complicated this terrain has become, and what may come your way if you say you want to be a bridger.
During the decades that the two of us have done this "bridging" work, around the country and around the world, we have learned how difficult and rewarding it can be. But in the divided time that we live in, we have observed how even bridging divides is being dragged into partisan warfare.
When we survey the terrain, we see at least four different attitudes towards bridging. Some are opposed to bridging on its merits because they believe that it involves forgiving wrong or offensive positions on "the other side." Others innocently believe that just bringing good intentions to a divisive conversation will be effective. Still others use bridging in a Machiavellian way to manipulate people by pretending to be open to hearing another perspective when, in truth, they are clearly not. And finally, there are folks who are thoughtfully and authentically working to bridge divides.
In the remainder of this column, we'll focus on the first group, those who are truly anti-bridging. In our subsequent columns, we will focus on the rest of the field.
The case made by anti-bridgers is clear. They feel that they are absolutely right and the other side is absolutely wrong, that they own "The Truth." They believe that they are on the side of good and their adversaries are on the side of evil. We have seen much evidence of this phenomena in recent years as more and more conservatives and progressives say they think the other side wants to hurt the country. It wasn't that long ago when we viewed our political opponents as honorable people with whom we genuinely disagreed. That attitude towards our adversaries created a different, and more civil, form of public debate and discourse. However, when you presume that your opponent's motives are malicious, or that their intentions are actually destructive, there is no longer any reason to treat them with civility or respect.
From this perspective, someone who engages with the other side — in other words, a bridger — is a traitor to their cause, or giving in to the enemy. So the reason anti-bridgers attend public meetings is not to hear the other side and consider their perspective, but to shame them and shout them down. They are experts at using social media to create echo chambers that amplify their perspective, even if it is held by a small number of people.
Based on our experience, some of these anti-bridgers are so consumed with their hatred for the other side that they are unwilling or unable to listen or hear or explore transpartisan solutions that might truly transcend the right-left divide.
For those of us who believe in this work, we know from experience that if we have the patience to listen to the deeper interests behind a rigid position, some progress is possible. But it is also best to let go of any notion of a quick win. Trying to bypass the militant defenses of the anti-bridging mindset, whether it is on the left or right, is rarely productive.
In summary, it is important to realize that they have reasons, either political or personal, for their high level of mistrust. All of our fellow citizens need to be heard and know they have been. We know that some of this may sound naive to those deep in their own army's trench. Even the major media on the left and right show nothing but disdain for those who think that more common ground is possible. That's why this work is so hard, but also why it is so important. If we take the time and care to understand other perspectives and build trust, we may be surprised by what we can do together.
Until our next column, we hope our thoughts trigger some of your own. Please email us with your reactions, questions or points of view at email@example.com. We would love to hear from you.
Originally published by The 19th.
New research shows girls are being socialized early in life to believe they don't belong in politics.
A research article published this month in the scholarly journal American Political Science Review found that young children perceive politics to be a space dominated by men. Girls' perception of this is enforced as they grow older.
From late 2017 to early 2018, researchers interviewed children around the country to capture their understanding and interest in politics. More than 1,600 1st through 6th graders were handed crayons and paper and asked to draw a political leader at work.
The children were given open-ended prompts to describe what the political leader is doing in their drawings, what words describe them and what such a leader does on a typical day.
The drawings and responses ran the gamut, particularly for the youngest children. But older girls in particular were more likely to draw people with masculine traits. Research assistants sorted responses by noting whether children drew known political leaders, included clothing like skirts or used pronouns in describing the political leaders. They also coded the adjectives children used as masculine traits or feminine traits. (The study states there are limitations to its use of terminology and does not address gender identity or include nonbinary people.)
Women remain underrepresented in elected office, making up just 31 percent percent of statehouses and 26.7 percent of Congress, but researchers argue it doesn't have to be this way. Mirya R. Holman of Tulane University, one of the article's authors, spoke to The 19th about the most surprising aspects of the research and the ways in which early intervention in how society teaches children about politics could make a difference.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Barbara Rodriguez: Why did you set out to explore this topic? Is it underreported?
Mirya R. Holman: This big research team that's involved are all people that, before starting the study, mostly studied adults. Everybody studies gender and politics, and a lot of us study questions around political ambition: Why are some people interested in running for political office? Why are other people less interested?
[The team] kept having these conversations over and over again — there's a lot of interventions that we're seeing that are often very successful in trying to get more women to run for the state legislature level or local office. But we are not seeing dramatic changes in the actual overall level of women's representation in the United States. By all accounts, we're looking at maybe 2100 before we're anywhere close to gender parity if we're the most optimistic about levels of women's representation.
We kept thinking maybe this actually starts much earlier than trying to recruit people that are in their 30s. So we set out to try to understand whether or not these gender gaps, in particular, in interest in politics and interest in holding political office, exist already among younger children, and we find that they do.
The research tests this new theoretical framework called “gendered political socialization." What is that, and why is it important in understanding the effects of girls' and boys' interest in politics?
We theorize that as children learn about the world, they go through two processes at the same time. The first is that boys and girls learn about gender in the world. And this is very well established in the literature that boys and girls, as young children and then through primary school, observe how men and women act in the world, and through those observations learn what kinds of roles men and women are supposed to occupy in the world. So if you only ever see women as elementary school teachers, for example, and you're a young child, you start to think, “Well, this is a role that women occupy in the world. And if I, a girl, am interested in having a role that is consistent with my gender then being an elementary school teacher is something that I might be interested in doing because it's consistent with the messaging that I'm getting about who belongs in the world." And we know from gender role theory that there is both internal and external pressures on kids to conform with these gender roles.
At the same time that this is happening — kids are learning about gender — they're also learning about politics. So one of the things that comes out from our studies is that kids are paying a lot of attention to what's going on in the political world as early as 6 years old. They know who political leaders are. They know who the president is. They're learning about who holds positions in the politics world, and through the social studies curriculum … they learn that, “Oh, we've only ever had men as presidents," for example.
In doing so, we argue that this process of gendered political socialization occurs, where they learn that politics is a space that's primarily occupied by men. And in learning that, that reinforces to them that politics is this masculine space and girls start to believe, “Well that's not really a place where I belong." And boys start to believe, “Oh, this is the place where I belong." And so we start to see these gaps emerge between boys and girls.
The research article concluded that children perceive politics to be a male-dominated space, and with age, girls increasingly see political leadership as dominated by male leaders. Was that surprising to you?
It confirmed my already existing expectations about what the world is like. One of the things that was surprising to me is sort of how early on this begins. We as a group had sort of discussed, “Well, maybe one of the things that happens is this starts to occur when we start to see student council elections. Maybe it's middle school or maybe high school when kids start to think of themselves as political actors, maybe that's when this begins." But what we see is that this begins in 3rd and 4th grade among kids. Under the age of 10, girls are already sort of opting out of thinking about themselves as political actors.
Separately, the research indicates that as children grow older, they internalize gendered expectations. You've already talked about this a little bit, but can you explain it a little bit more in terms of what ramifications that has?
When we think about these gendered expectations, we might think about this as constraining our sort of daily behavior, right? What do people wear? How do they act? How do they treat other people? But it also constrains what they think about in terms of their potential roles in the future in society.
One of the bodies of scholarship we draw a lot on is from research from science education that's really been trying to think about how to get girls more excited about STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]. And in that literature, they show over and over again that basically girls can't conceive of themselves as being a scientist and doing the things that they want to do in their life. One of the sorts of components to this is that girls are socialized to be more interested in communal activities.
These are socialized roles that girls internalize over time. And they can't necessarily see themselves as occupying those roles doing that work in a position like politics, because politics is seen as masculine. It's not going to have those communal characteristics.
As part of the research, you and your colleagues asked children to draw pictures of political leaders. For boys, the probability of them at age 6 drawing a male political leader is 75 percent and drops to just 71 percent at age 12. At age 6, the probability of a girl drawing a man as a political leader is 47 percent; by age 12 that probability increases to almost 75 percent. What has happened in-between?
The drawings represented for us one of the more exciting pieces of the research, because the drawings themselves are very interesting and honestly incredibly cute. But they also represent for us a really clear example of this idea of, you can't be what you can't see. As girls learn more and more about the political world, and they learn more and more about who occupies the political world and who has occupied the political world, they see themselves less and less in it. So, as children age, boys just go along and they draw mostly pictures of men, no matter what their age. But girls increasingly draw images of men as they learn more about the political system. So as their political knowledge grows, they're more likely to see politics as a space that's dominated by men.
What are the consequences of girls losing political interest and ambition at such a young age?
One is, if we're thinking sort of generally as a society … we're going to have to think about interventions to get girls interested in politics at a far earlier age than we've been aiming so far. Often what we see is, maybe college students, sometimes high school students, but often adult women, we're trying to convince adult women to be interested in politics or engaged in politics. And our research would suggest we may actually want to start far earlier on in the life cycle to get women interested in politics.
The other piece of it too, though, is thinking about sort of how we talk about politics and how we talk about who's in politics. A lot of social science curriculum uses this really traditional historio-political context where they sort of go through the major political events in American history and point to who was involved in those. So we have many drawings of Abraham Lincoln in our sample because kids learn about Abraham Lincoln as an important political figure. Of course, Abraham Lincoln is an important political figure, but if kids are only learning about men as important political figures, we're not going to have an easy way of sort of changing people's ideas about who belongs in politics.
Was there anything else about the research that you found surprising or that you think would be important for readers to consider?
One of the things that we found that was pleasantly surprising is that kids think about political leaders as engaging in things that academics would consider communal activities: helping other people, caring for people, solving problems, going into the community — these things that are what we would want political leaders to be known for. And so we hope that means that people that are interested in hearing broadly about others in the community could see themselves as potential political leaders and kids that are interested in communal activities and potentially caring for other people could see themselves as growing up and being a political leader that helps change things for the better.
What are the potential solutions here? The research indicates that early intervention is necessary. What should that look like?
We're trying to figure that out. That's one of the sort of next steps for us. One of the things that we think is key is thinking about what these social science curricula look like and what kinds of lessons are kids getting in the classroom about who belongs in politics. The other piece of it, though, is thinking about making sure that kids are exposed to a wide range of political role models. We very much have a political system where we talk a lot about what is happening in the White House, and we have for the first time ever a woman as a political leader of the White House. So thinking about the opportunities that Kamala Harris' position affords us might be something that's really interesting. The other piece of it is making sure that, we know, for example, fathers are less likely to talk about politics with their daughters as compared to their sons, and girls' political interests are more likely to be dismissed by their parents and role models, so making sure that parents and role models are thinking about the ways that they can have conversations about politics with their daughters as well as their sons, to make sure that their daughters are getting the full exposure to information about politics.