Essay on left-liberal divide in Current Affairs

I had an essay on the left-liberal divide in the Democratic Party published in Current AffairsI tried my best to have it be something that people from both sides of the divide could read and feel that their concerns are respected. But also, to respect some of the less reconcilable differences between the two sides, I tried to additionally propose healthy processes through which those differences could be arbitrated: processes that neither quiet internal dissent nor risk more Trump-Ryan-McConnell power. Excerpts:

Such cross-divide conversations are hard— and with the release of Hillary’s new book and Bernie’s Medicare for All bill, it is likely to get harder. But I believe in the old Mister Rogers maxim: what’s mentionable is manageable. In that spirit, I aim to persuade: to build up intra-party understanding by, first, doing my best to articulate what I believe each side feels; and, second, attempting to identify a few prospective patches of common ground.

These divisions may have started the left-liberal conflict, but what has sustained the conflict has been the fact that because both sides are developing into integrated political tribes. As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues, political tribalism begins with shared intuitions: we first feel what is politically right, then later muster arguments to support our intuitions. When people who share some intuitions about politics find each other and discover they share other intuitions, they begin to form political communities to collaborate on mustering arguments for their shared bundles of political intuitions. Out of these political communities emerge leaders and institutions that further surface and solidify their connection and creed. The tribal formation is complete when these communities establish a unified tribal narrative— complete with stories of the past, present, and future; heroes and villains; and direction for what members should be doing. At its most extreme, tribal participation approaches a religious experience, as theologian Harvey Cox explained well in The Secular City: “In secular society politics does what metaphysics once did… It brings unity and meaning to human life and thought.”

This would move our conflicts — over which candidates are worthy of trust, over what voters actually want, and over the reality of certain larger forces — away from the neverending shadow-boxing ring and toward resolution in the court of public opinion. Primaries, for example, will help resolve the strategy divide, surfacing whether “pragmatism” or “idealism” wins in general elections, as candidates of different persuasions win primaries and test their pragmatist/idealist orientation in general elections. Issue campaigns, meanwhile, will surface the extent to which the party has been corrupted by nefarious structural forces. One need not endlessly discuss whether this or that politician is a “neoliberal shill” if you can resolve the question by launching issue campaigns that dramatize these larger forces at play and see whether said politician supports the campaign. If they do, they may be worthy of more trust. If they do not, they may be worthy of a primary challenge.

Read the whole essay — How to Heal the Left-Liberal Divide — here.

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