- Victor C. Bolles
Wake Up! Dems
I believe that most Democrats are good people. They care about the downtrodden. They care about the poor. They care about minorities, and they care about women. Let’s just say they care about people. I think that many Democrats think that Republicans only care about numbers – GDP , inflation, and public debt for example.
I belong to an organization called Braver Angels that is promoting civil discourse between Republicans and Democrats (in Braver Angels we call them reds and blues). Braver Angels holds workshops and depolarizing conversations to discuss the issues that confront us every day and was featured recently on CBS’ Sunday Morning. These aren’t really debates and we don’t try and change anybody’s mind. The purpose of our get togethers is to understand where the other side is coming from and to be able to interact and discuss civilly and not have confrontations that degenerate into shouting matches.
Of course, the participants in our meetings and discussions are self-selected. Hard-core extremists on either side are not interested in understanding how the other side feels or thinks, so they don’t attend. But looking at the polling data about how Americans feel about the issues, it seems clear that most of us don’t agree with the radicals. A contentious issue such as abortion will generate explosive outbursts from extremists that demand either a total ban on abortions or no restrictions whatever on abortions. Most Americans, however, hold a more centrist opinion allowing abortions but with reasonable restrictions, similar to the laws on abortions in many European countries.
Participating in civil discussions hasn’t changed my beliefs or opinions as you can readily tell by reading my commentaries. And my more strident criticisms are not directed at Republicans and Democrats generally, but at the extremists of both parties.
I don’t think that most Americans are as consumed by politics as I am. Most just want to get on with their lives and keep working toward their own unique American dream. New York University psychologist (and Braver Angels’ board member) Jonathan Haidt has pointed out in his book, The Righteous Mind, that liberals and conservatives have different ethical systems that drive their political decisions. So, although they may disagree, they both think that they are good people making ethical decisions. And as Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman (although he won his prize in economics) has pointed out in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, most people do not use their rational brain in making important decisions, and often rely on feelings, predispositions and gut instincts. Most people, therefor, do not think deeply about their political beliefs but rely on feelings and instincts that appear to be in line with their moral precepts.
Politicians and pollsters understand this and direct their political ads toward those instinctual feelings and don’t stuff their messages with boring facts and minute details that quickly lose the attention of many people. Politicians will adapt their messages and the words they use to cultivate these tendencies (what Kahneman called thinking fast) and avoid engaging deeper thinking on complex issues (Kahneman’s thinking slow). Political ads are like the Tik Tok algorithm that keeps feeding you more and more of what already attracts your eye (what psychologists call confirmation bias).
Democratic campaign ads tug at your heart strings when they feature the murdered kids in Uvalde, Texas. Their ads enrage women by stating that their reproductive rights are unimportant to Republicans. All Republicans, not just the political candidates running for office. This is one reason why friendships and families are being broken by politics.
Many people vote Democratic because the union boss told their granddad to vote for FDR. But todays Democratic Party is nothing like FDR’s party. JFK wouldn’t recognize today’s Democratic Party. Remember that it was JFK that lowered the top marginal tax rate from 91% (a marginal rate that Bernie Sanders and the progressives now want to reinstate). It’s not even the Democratic Party of LBJ who worked with Republicans to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Progressives use words like diversity, equity and inclusion that sound high minded and eminently fair. Many Democrats support candidates who say they are fighting for diversity, equity and inclusion without realizing that these are code words for policies that will harm their lives and the lives of their children. They don’t want to even hear opposing arguments for fear they might agree. So, they continue to reelect people who call themselves Democrats but whose policies are based on Marxism.
You Republicans reading this are probably smirking about how gullible Democrats are to be so easily duped by cunning leftist politicians. But wait a minute! Everything I have said about Democrats applies equally to Republicans.
Wake Up! Republicans
Most Republicans also think they’re good people. They feel they are very patriotic and proud to be an American. It was the Republican-led Civil War that ended slavery. It was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower that ended segregation. They believe that Republicans have faith in the US Constitution and support civil rights like free speech and religious freedom. They believe that Democrats favor a bigger government that they fear (as did the Founders) and also push for ruinous tax and spend policies.
But like the Democrats, many Republicans develop their political beliefs with their fast thinking instinctual brain and not their slow thinking frontal lobes. It’s not that Americans are dumb or stupid. It’s just human nature. Using your frontal cortex is tiring and takes a lot of energy. Perhaps Albert Einstein used his frontal lobes more than most people, but Elon Musk is proof that even geniuses don’t always have their frontal lobes fully engaged.
Former President Trump is a great example of an expert manipulator of the fast thinking instinctual brain. His language is coarse. His lies are transparent. When he speaks at his incessant rallies, he sounds like he is mentally impaired. He isn’t. At least, not that way. He uses the skills he developed on his reality TV show, the Apprentice, to manipulate people into believing his lies and deceptions. He calls people in the Republican Party that don’t agree with him RINOs (or republicans in name only), which is the same as saying that only Donald Trump can define what Republicans stand for.
Donald Trump may have been a disastrous president, but his campaigning was masterful. His rhetoric (if you can call it that) is geared to activating the instinctual brains of his audience. His hyperbolic claims of the dangers posed by people illegally entering the United States activates the amygdalas of his audience. The amygdala is the part of your brain that determines whether you fight or flee. So, when Trump told his audience on January 6th to fight like hell, he was not appealing to their frontal lobes but to their amygdalas and the amygdalas of some in the crowd said go storm the capitol.
Democrats may now be smirking at how Republicans fell in thrall to the populist Donald Trump. But Americans (Democrats and Republicans and even independents) need to come to grips about the dual nature of our brains. Most Americans try to be good people, but our different psychological profiles determine the structure of our ethical beliefs. The imposition of the radical views of either side would create a tyranny. We need to convert our different ethical visions from the current divisive zero sum game into a win/win scenario. That’s where Braver Angels (and other organizations like it) come in.