Partisan Bias

From Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity by Lilliana Mason:

Democrats and Republicans also view objective economic conditions differently, depending on which party is in power. In the week before the 2016 election, 16 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats believed the US economy was getting better. In the week after the election, 49 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of Democrats believed the economy was improving….



Report on “Americans for Humanity: A Declaration” – 1/30/19

A prominent author, editor, and activist wrote:

I’ve been going back through our past e-mail exchanges. A quick check. I am assuming that you wrote both of these pieces. Is that correct?

…If you are the author of this material, you are a person I want to know and would welcome the opportunity to explore with you your strategy for engaging the world in the discussions you seek to foster. I suspect that writing declarations or manifestos may not be the best way to proceed.

I replied:

I just now saw your email, which is very encouraging. Yes, holding you in very high regard, I would welcome the opportunity for us to get to know each other and explore strategies for engaging the world. I see “Americans for Humanity: A Declaration” or some similar brief manifesto merely as a first step. Soon I plan to review New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World — and How to Make It Work for You by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Tims. When I read it months ago, I was very impressed….

We plan a Skype call tomorrow.

A prominent academic and activist wrote:

This is great! I could sign it if it were edited to qualify the language in the item that references pressuring the government to implement policies supported by “strong majorities” so that we are *explicitly* here talking about “dignity-based,” “humanity-based” or otherwise valued-aligned policies backed by strong majorities. As you know, majorities are sometimes part of the problem in a democratic society (as regards unpopular or vulnerable minorities).

I replied:

Great to hear. Good point about majorities. Previously I’ve qualified the idea with “compassionate,” but overlooked the issue this time. Does that work? That word is used elsewhere only once, so using it here would not be too redundant. It would read: pressures Washington to implement compassionate policies supported by strong majorities of the American people.

A young, dynamic grassroots activist wrote:

I think this is amazing. It should be turned into a sticker or postcard people can use.

I replied:

Good to hear. Great idea. I’ll share it with a respondent who offered to help with graphics. Maybe the three of us will be able to collaborate if and when the Declaration is final and goes live.

Another activist responded:

Thanks for continuing to work on this. This is exactly the kind of document that would be affixed to the wall of a meeting or community room for an organization I’d actually be inspired to join. However, just seeing the document itself would not be sufficient for me to have confidence that the organization truly lives by these ideals….

A long-term associate from the East Coast commented:

Wade, I’ve put suggested additions or replacements in caps and deletions in brackets. My hesitation in responding to this declaration is that i have a full plate and, though i can send emails or info, I don’t see room for additional activism….

I replied:

I substituted “accomplishments” for “gains.” Thanks. But the other suggestions don’t quite work for me. I included all of your suggestions in the Log, however, so maybe others will second some of them.

A long-term prominent peace activist and author commented:

I would be happy to sign it, but would strongly encourage that we include something like commit to living in a world where  the US ends all the wars and threats of wars the US is involved in around the world and sign and agrees to the abide by the international treaty to abolish all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth, and agree to commit to solving all disputes by mediation, negotiation and justice for all parties in all conflicts.

International relations is an important issue, so email this led to a series of exchanges. The latest draft of the declaration now includes:

nurtures supportive relationships with other countries, backs their right to self-determination, and encourages the peaceful resolution of conflicts with mediation and negotiation.

A long-term correspondent wrote:

I don’t agree with every word but every word isn’t important to me.  We’re kindred spirits who desire to live our lives in accord with life-affirming principles like these.  I understand that you want to organize people around peace and love and fairness in this declaration. I’m grateful to know you and be in a circle of people that values these principles.   I support you and would sign this statement without change…. I’m planning a trip to CA around September to bury my father-in-laws ashes in Salinas. Perhaps we can get together then?

Another long-term activist emailed:

These are of course wonderful aspirations for a sane world! I am glad to sign, but can’t do anything else.

Another respondent commented:

Maybe missing more on the link between the way we treat the environment and each other, but it’s a good start! And I would sign it. Thanks for pursuing this project.

I replied:

I’m glad you would sign and appreciate the appreciation. I made a note on “The Case for “Americans for Humanity: A Declaration about your good point: “Maybe missing more on the link between the way we treat the environment and each other.”

I’m sending this report to the 28 of the 32 respondents who expressed strong interest in the project (most of the others were supportive but too busy to participate now). All comments and my responses are included in the Declaration Dialog Log. The latest draft will always be Americans for Humanity: A Declaration.

The response so far heartens me considerably. Many seasoned activists and several academics have offered strong support. Thanks again to all of you, including those who suggested changes that have helped improve the declaration. I’ll be back in touch soon.


I thought Vice was very good, but liked Fair Game – Director’s Cut on Netflix even more. It covers the same ground more powerfully.

Better yet is Get Me Roger Stone on Netflix. Very well done. I learned new details about his history.  

‘Green Book’ and ‘Miss Daisy’ Fuel a Racial Fantasy. Mookie Knew Better.

By Wesley Morris

In many Oscar bait movies, interracial friendships come with a paycheck, and follow the white character’s journey to enlightenment.

…We’d all been reared on racial-reconciliation fantasies. Why can’t Mookie and Sal be friends? The answer’s too long and too raw. Sal can pay Mookie to deliver pizzas ‘til kingdom come. But he could never pay him enough to be his friend.

Democrats, Border Walls, and Social Polarization

As Lilliana Mason reports in her shocking, disturbing Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became our Identity (2018), many scientific studies prove that human beings are afflicted with a deep-seated instinct to polarize into highly competitive, mean-spirited tribes. Emotions rooted in the body associated with politics and sports are remarkably similar. Those powerful feelings, often unconscious, can distort reality and undermine ethical behavior. Winning becomes primary, consequences secondary.

In order to win, polarized tribes will sacrifice their own self-interest as well as the needs of others. Tribal members enjoy seeing opponents suffer even if they themselves don’t benefit. Their unconscious bias results in destructive discrimination and produces a self-reinforcing downward spiral. Rather than reach agreement on how to relieve suffering, they prefer to fight win-or-lose symbolic, ideological battles over abstractions like “the government,” “capitalism,” or “the wall.” Meanwhile four percent of the world’s children die by the age of five and the planet is burning up.

Mason argues that both Republicans and Democrats are examples.

Clearly, for Donald Trump, winning is everything, regardless of consequences. He will do anything to claim victory, even if the claim is false. He’s the ultimate polarizer. His motivations are transparent.

But Democrats are prone to the same weaknesses, as reflected in how they have handled the the government shutdown and the Kavanagh hearings. They also can be too dedicated to winning the next election, without enough regard for consequences.

Concerning the shutdown that’s inflicting serious harm, the Democratic response to Trump’s demand for “a wall” has been “no wall,” resulting in a zero-sum battle that leaves little room for compromise. As summed up by

Democrats are refusing to give Trump the political win…. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “no wall” — not now, not ever — she meant it….  It’s a symbol of Trump’s political ascension…. Pelosi says Democrats will never vote for “the wall.”… [She said] a wall is an immorality…. As long as Trump’s “wall” — the campaign rallying cry — is the centerpiece of the White House’s border security demand, don’t expect Democrats to engage.  [Many Democrats] have said they would never vote for another mile of fencing.

Over the past two years, [for Trump] the wall has become “see-through” and perhaps less contiguous…. To Trump, it’s all a wall…. For Democrats, that’s the problem.

Democrats are vehemently opposed to a border wall not necessarily because they oppose physical barriers along the border, but because backing it would be seen as the equivalent of backing one of Trump’s racist campaign promises.

A more rational position for the Democrats to have taken would have been:

We’ve voted for scattered steel fences before. We might vote for more in the future. But we will not negotiate the issue during a government shutdown. And we oppose 230 miles of more steel fences.

But if enough Democrats oppose funding for even one more mile of fencing, they may have the power to block any compromise on this issue, as the Freedom Caucus has held sway in the Republican Party.

The mainstream media profit by aggravating this conflict with superficial reports that focus on “the wall” vs. “no wall.” To my knowledge, neither the Times, the Post, the network news, nor the Newshour have reported on this issue with the depth and detail it requires.

Now, in his Jan. 19 televised address, Trump said, “To physically secure our border, the plan includes $5.7 billion for a strategic deployment of physical barriers, or a wall. This is not a 2,000 mile concrete structure from sea to sea. These are steel barriers in high priority locations.” With this move, he may have given the Democrats an offer it will be hard from them to accept without contradicting their no-wall absolutism.  

Commenting on this shift, Robert Kuttner said, “He has already back-pedaled on his demand for a literal concrete wall. In the endgame, he can term a mix of electronic surveillance and some actual barriers a ‘wall,’ and declare victory.” But will the Democrats backpedal too?

The Kavanagh hearings are another example of Democrats prioritizing electoral victories and disregarding human costs. Shortly after the hearings, in “Why Didn’t the Democrats Stop the Nomination?” I wrote:

If the Democrats had hammered away at the many lies told by Kavanaugh under oath, they may have stopped the nomination…. But they didn’t. So the network news, including PBS, hardly touched on [that issue] during the days leading up to the vote. Why didn’t the Democrats concentrate on the lies? One possibility is that the focus on sexual assault…will bring more women to the polls. …If that scenario is accurate and it helps the Democrats next month to win an overwhelming majority in the House … were those tactics justified?

Also suspicious was Senator Dianne Feinstein’s holding on to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s letter  charging Kavanagh with sexual assault, rather than giving it to the FBI before their confidential background check closed. Some Democrats have acknowledged that decision gave Republicans fodder to accuse the Democrats of playing dirty tricks by using the issue as an “ace in the hole.”

Moreover, the Democrats did not pass on to Dr. Ford the Republicans’ offer to go to California to interview her privately. When the committee asked her if that offer had been communicated to her, she replied, “I just appreciate that you did offer that. I wasn’t clear on what the offer was. If you were going to come out to see me, I would have happily hosted you and … been happy to speak with you out there.”

As it turned out, the hearings proved to be a public spectacle and, according to post-election analysis, they did help the Democrats win suburban districts and take back the House. Was the suffering and danger inflicted on Dr. Ford worth gaining that edge?

If one or both of the major political parties splinter, that development could open the door to more bipartisan compromise. Militant factions could still push to get more support for their minority positions. But bipartisan majorities could better enact supermajority opinions. That’s how democracy is supposed to work. Otherwise, irrational battles are likely to continue and may worsen.

The Republicans, the Democrats, and the media are products of the System. The upward mobility escalator — and efforts to be “a star” and dominate “inferiors” — nurture bias, discrimination, and scapegoating. Rather than admitting points of agreement and compromising, winning is more important.

In the meantime, our best hope may be for a popular movement that helps people transcend the System’s conditioning. As is the case with racial implicit bias, a strong commitment to self-awareness and conscious self-control can help reverse divisiveness.

As Mason puts it, “the power of winning is very strong,” but we can learn to “enjoy our own social-group identities without wishing harm upon others.” By enhancing self-esteem, positive self-images, and peer support, we can liberate our higher angels.

Multiple Identities, Politics, Freedom, and Equality

For me, the most important article of 2019 may prove to be “The Philosopher Redefining Equality” by Nathan Heller in the January 7 issue of The New Yorker. The article’s subhead is “Elizabeth Anderson thinks we’ve misunderstood the basis of a free and fair society.” The caption for the lead illustration is “Our real concern should be equality not in material benefits, Anderson argues, but in social relations: democratic equality.”

Heller writes:

Her work, drawing on real-world problems and information, has helped to redefine the way contemporary philosophy is done, leading what might be called the Michigan school of thought. …She brings together ideas from both the left and the right to battle increasing inequality,…

Born in 1959, Anderson specializes in moral and political philosophy. Right out of graduate school, Princeton University offered her a tenure-track job, but she decided to stay at the University of Michigan, where she is now the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies (which she named after Dewey when the university elevated her to its highest professorship). As soon as I get it, I plan to read her 2017 book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It).

Heller reports:

“The Industrial Revolution was a cataclysmic event for egalitarians,” Anderson explains…. “We are told that our choice is between free markets and state control, when most adults live their working lives under a third thing entirely: private government.”

As summed up by Heller:

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