Sep 20, 2023Liked by Noah Berlatsky

I am so glad to know about this article! You articulate very well why it is both irksome and pernicious to describe the real problem as polarization. I don’t know if you are endorsing the idea that wanting less hostility between different political factions is necessarily pernicious. As the comment above mentions, Obama thought he could be some kind of uniter, showing respect to all views. The way this turned out should put to rest any idea it will work in our culture now and possibly for the indefinite future. The obvious reason is racism. Not that I’m saying if one doesn’t like Obama, one is a racist merely that the way the enmity of white people to Obama and the Democrats as a whole rose to mind-boggling heights can’t be explained without racism.

Maybe it’s stupidly idealist to say ‘if white people could only be much less racist...we could have much less hostility.’ But it’s just true.

Unity is a suspect idea in some ways, especially at it is used in this context. Unity requires submission to the whole --at least to some set of norms, ideals, loyalties. It’s great if those ideals are good ones but as used it always implies all minority groups submitting for the good of their country, etc.

Unity was a big thing for fascists, obviously. They were for getting to unity by getting rid of outsiders to the volk.

We should really stop wanting unity but instead want something more like civic friendship, which is some trust and concern for our fellow citizens, whatever their politics.

It doesn’t seem true, however, that the whole story of a more amicable society was white people unified through Jim Crow, and inflicted its horrors on Black and native people. It seemed more in the late 20th and early 21st century that some white people were trying to be amicable, some were faking being amicable but committed political racists did not necessarily have the upper hand. So at least there was the possibility of amity, gradually over time. Now they do have the upper hand, and that possibility is foreclosed because there is no friendship to be had with racists.

If more of our political framework was not completely dehumanizing to certain groups of people and if individuals were respected as equals maybe politics would not have to be at the center of our identities but would be something that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker in human relations. For this we need a MUCH more just society. People need to not feel threatened by one another. In our society, some people pose an *real* threat because their attitudes to fellow citizens are so hostile. Mainly, because they are racist bigots. There’s also an increasing gulf between the worldviews of these groups, making a kind of culture shock when people discuss reality.

This disconnect about what reality is and what moral values matter are the things that make the polarization extremely threatening to society going forward. There’s no way to bridge the gap because people do not understand what other people believe and value. It’s not even about the parties so much as these unconnected cultures without bridges.

That it’s a moral gulf if probably why the people talking about polarization sound like moral relativists. If you think something really matters morally you HAVE to insist on it. I think the centrists don’t have firm values or principles and they are the ones who are always regaling us with this polarization discussion. They want us all to become moral relativists and nihilists like they are, and they don’t understand that people who have sincere moral commitments to human dignity and equality and decency cannot just be pals with people whose commitment is to the complete opposite.

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Where do you place President Obama’s statement that he is President for all Americans? is this not a plea for unity?

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I think Obama was overly, and often naively focused on unity, and underestimate republican resistance as a result.

it's also true that the president is accountable to everyone. that doesn't mean you need to find the middle on policy or that you need to pretend that racist republican policies are reasonable and it would be better for unity if you didn't characterize them accurately.

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Unity is not an issue when the U.S. population perceives a “real”: threat. Before 12.07.1941 the country was divided, anti-semitism was rampant with a large segment of citizens supporting Germany. So too with conditions before 09.11.2001. After each of these calamities there was no need to call for unity. It was short lived after 9/11 due to the perfidy of the Iraq war.

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