That name is “partyism.”
“…party prejudice in the U.S. has jumped, infecting not only politics but also decisions about dating, marriage and hiring. By some measures, “partyism” now exceeds racial prejudice — which helps explain the intensity of some midterm election campaigns. In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said that they would feel “displeased” if their son or daughter married outside their political party. By 2010, those numbers had reached 49 percent and 33 percent. Republicans have been found to like Democrats less than they like people on welfare or gays and lesbians. Democrats dislike Republicans more than they dislike big business.”
Based on what I’ve seen, the fact that Republicans/conservatives are nearly twice as likely to be “partyists” as their hated enemies to the left on the political spectrum doesn’t surprise me. Most of the manifestations of the bigotry I’ve seen out in the open and written about here—restaurants that give discounts to praying customers and bars that claim that they will only serve “red voters”—have come from that sector, but 33 percent isn’t anything for liberals to be proud of, either. Over all, the trend is horrible for the country. As I wrote regarding “Mary’s,” the restaurant that favored its religious customers…
“I detest this kind of thing, and so should you, because it is ethically indefensible and un-American to the core….splitting the world into them and us, good guys and bad guys, the virtuous and the reviled. All of “Mary’s” customers are human beings, and that is the only thing that should matter in the United States of America.”
I confess that since I have been observing this phenomenon, I am preconditioned to think the Stanford research that purported to measure it as has validity. Most social science research, especially involving politics, is so skewed by researcher bias and agendas that it is inherently dubious, and perhaps this example is too: I wouldn’t rely on the percentages. Also 1960 would have to be the absolute low water mark in U.S. political passions, after the remarkably non-partisan, unifying two terms of Dwight Eisenhower while the public felt united against a common enemy in the Cold War. I’m guessing the numbers in, say, 1860 would show a sharper divide.
I do think that the intensity of emotion, rising to bigotry, distrust and hate, in the nation’s political polarization is growing, is very alarming, and dangerous to our health and future. I’d like to know more about where it resides. Is the bulk of the bigotry coming from the low-information voter, who uncritically absorbs every campaign smear, bumper sticker insult and Facebook meme as fact—you know, morons? Or are the individuals who would rather die than see their daughters marry men who oppose the family’s favorite party the narrow-minded political junkies who watch only Fox News and listen to Rush, or who cheer Al, Chris, Rachel and the 24-7 conservative-bashers on MSNBC? I’d like to know.
Naturally theories will abound regarding the reasons for this new bigotry. In a general sense, it is pure cognitive dissonance, and can be explained by people today caring more about politics and ideology than they have for quite a while. People care about something when they sense that it matters to their lives, health and welfare, as well as those around them: if political views were regarded as no more important than what baseball team one rooted for, there is no way substantive bigotry would attach to them. With foreign threats looming, the economy weak, nobody certain of the right policies in so many crucial areas and the pettiness, corruption and ineptitude of parties in and out of power, trust has plummeted. When we can’t trust those whom we have given the job of looking out for our welfare, we become worried and scared, as well we should. Then it makes sense to care more about politics. If we care more, and feel strongly about what should be done either out of a lack of sophistication and gullibility (the morons) or from unbalanced self-education (the zealots), then those who proclaim opposing views seem more obnoxious and more threatening, prompting active discrimination. The Stanford study found that “discrimination against the out-group is based more on out-group animus than in-group favoritism.” That figures. But for a nation, it is suicidal.
This nation of ideals gleaned from a diverse population must value trust and belief in what all citizens share more than it embraces passion and anger over what we disagree over. If we cherish the basic principles of democracy, then we must accept, encourage and respect dissent, frank speech, the shocking opinion and the minority view. We must always keep our minds open to new ideas, different solutions to old problems, and the possibility that we, or the public officials, scholars and pundits we favor, may be wrong on any one topic or issue. If we can’t do that, we doom ourselves and our culture to self-righteousness, doctrine, cant and rigidity, which block out enlightenment like an eclipse blocks sunlight.
Prof. Sunstein doesn’t provide any scholarly theories about why partyism is growing, except a poor one: I doubt that negative political campaigns is a major factor. Among my culprits—though not all of these have been bad or undesirable developments in the abstract— would be…
- The decline of civility in public discourse
- The beginnings of harsh generational disrespect in the Sixties
- The failure to teach ethics and values, as well as critical thinking skills, in the schools and at home, making people vulnerable to ideological formulas and leaving them unable to challenge demagogues
- The collapse of organized religion, neighborhoods, social groups and communities, making citizens eager to identify with some group, somewhere, to provide identity and purpose
- The struggles of the declining portion of the public guided by morality to adjust to new cultural standards dictated by ethics evolution
- The rise of the online community, allowing users to stratify themselves and isolate their minds from any but palatable concepts, opinions and ideas
- The collapse of the broadcast media news monopoly, which fed a homogenized world view to the vast majority of the public without challenges
- The rise of conservative talk radio and Fox News
- The unwise weakening of national culture and the values consensus that nurtures it
- The emergence of social issues carrying stakes and passions comparable to slavery —abortion, open boarders, gay rights
- The post-Sixties ideological imbalance in elite universities
- The deterioration of the public schools and the educational system generally
- The corruption of capitalism increasingly being opposed by the fantasy of socialism
- The failure of prominent, alleged moderates to show restraint, wisdom or integrity, like John Avlon, who launched the supposedly moderate organization “No Labels,” and then published a book labeling anyone who opposed abortion as a “wingnut”…
However, the fish still rots from the head down (yes, I wish there was a newer, cleverer, less hackneyed metaphor too), and the primary miscreants who has led the nation to this troubling place are the people who lead and have led the nation. They are the ones who have encouraged division for political gain. They are the ones who have increasingly used the rhetoric of hate, demonizing the character and motives of opponents and adversaries, seeding bigotry in the process. They are the ones who have said that Republicans want us to die, and that Democrats want to destroy civilization, from places of power and influence where such irresponsible slanders do not belong, ever.
We, of course, have the power to reject such leaders and make such tactics too costly to thrive. We can make friends with someone different from ourselves, and resolve to love them for their humanity and good qualities, not revile them because they have an Obama sticker on their car, or were raised in a church where the minister said that a man loving a man was a sin. We can teach and enlighten them, and give them the chance to teach and enlighten us. We don’t have to practice partyism. It’s harmful, cruel and stupid, sucks the variety out of life and the vitality out of this wonderful country. We don’t have to be partisan bigots.
So let’s just stop.