To The Editor:
Here’s a question worth considering: Who is in your sense of “us”?
Politics fizzes and fractures along countless different lines, from ideology to race to gender. But democratic systems are really about finding where the “us” is on all their different axes.
Often the two sides talk past each other, with common ground hard to come by, indeed, few issues create a sense of “us” and “them” than immigration and race.
Yet, polls show that the traditional sense of “us” is fracturing. For liberals in particular, “us” increasingly includes unauthorized immigrants, and racism is a systemic problem “we” need to solve, and it is not just “their” problem.
This shifting sense of “us” is at the core of the polarization we see today in America. Throw in views of the economy and on religion, and these two senses of “us” gets even sharper.
An emerging body of research had demonstrated that “polarization” in the public is based less on issues, and more on the growing strength of partisan social identities and the “us” vs. “them” mentalities they create.
How do we begin to knit together a new sense of “us”? The current approach is to convince the other side that they are wrong. We see this approach reflected in our politics: anger, frustration, and a sense that compromise is capitulation.
The key to a different approach boils down to the question: Can you make a convincing argument for the other side? Few people can. We must use this approach to any political discussion and debate, marked by open-mindedness, recognition of the legitimacy of moral differences and a goal of achieving consensus.
In short, effective democratic politics must be perpetually reforging a new “us.”