American tribalism and the vast hopeful middleOctober 17, 2018
If you thought the conversations were being dominated by activist polarized whites, you were right. The N.Y. Times’ David Brooks has written a piece entitled “The Rich White Civil War: A smarter look at America’s divide” that’s worth a read. Utilizing research results from “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” Brooks exposes what he describes as now “cultish” extremes in U.S. politics.
According to this new study of the American electorate:
- There are about 8% of Americans in the extreme left camp — all actively voting, all active on social media, all giving money and time to campaigns, all well-educated and almost all white (80%). Their collective voices dominate Democratic politics.
- There are about 6% in the extreme right camp — all actively voting, all active on social media, all giving money and time to campaigns, all well-educated and almost all white (88%). Their collective voices dominate Republican politics.
These two groups are opposed to one another on issues but also at a deeply personal level. They hold one another in actual contempt.
They also have their own online and mainstream media sources which continually fuel their viewpoint and reinforce their views of those on the other side. They see themselves as good and evil, us and them. They do not meet in the middle and they do not respect those who are in the middle because they are fully convinced of the rightness of their position. Any and all who disagree – or even get in the way – are unfortunate casualties of what they see and engage in as war.
- The far left’s 8% of the population are “Progressive Activists” who are “deeply concerned with … equity, fairness … They tend to be more secular, cosmopolitan, and highly engaged with social media.”
- The far right’s 6% of the population are “Devoted Conservatives” who feel that “America is embattled, and they perceive themselves as the last defenders of traditional values.”
This is confirmation of the worldview divide we often point to here on The Reconnect and on Connecting Faith. People at the extremes do not talk to or with each other but they often talk about one another in openly hostile, demeaning and pejorative terms.
But note, together they only constitute 14% of the American electorate. That means that the majority – the vast majority, 67% – are not extreme, not highly polarized politically and basically stuck in the middle. And being in the middle of a cultural battlefield means the majority – who are just trying to live in peace – are often caught in the cross-fire.
Let us then, not lose hope! It is significant to recognize that the overwhelming majority of Americans, a full two-thirds of us, identified as the “Exhausted Majority.” And that very large majority of Americans desire something new.
So, how do we fan the flame of the new thing?
First, we lift up our drooping heads and strengthen our weak knees and learn again to stand, with heads held high – not always ducking for cover. We re-engage the conversation with the full dignity of Ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven. We speak as those who have the authority given us by the risen Christ. We tell those who need to hear it to “Stop it.” And we demonstrate what it looks like to talk with people who look, sound, dress and believe differently than we do. We take the earbuds out and put the phone away so we can look people in the eye and have real conversations about what’s really going on in real people’s lives all around us. We influence every conversation and every person we meet and slowly but surely we re-till the cultural soil of this land. We plant seeds. We pour out living water. We tend and feed and bind up and mend – and we do not stop even when all around us rage.
Here are a few places to start:
Them: Why we hate each other by Ben Sasse