Opinion | ‘Gut-level Hatred’ Is Consuming Our Political Life

For example, Hochschild continued,

When I asked a Pikeville, Ky., businessman why he thought the Democratic Party had become “unhinged,” Henry, as I’ll call him here, studied his cellphone, then held it for me to see a video of two transgender activists standing on the White House lawn in Pride week. One was laughingly shaking her naked prosthetic breasts, the other bare-chested, showing scars where breasts had been cut away. The clip then moved to President Biden saying, “these are the bravest people I know.”

The sense of loss is acute among many Republican voters. Geoffrey Layman, a political scientist at Notre Dame, emailed me to say:

They see the face of America changing, with white people set to become a minority of Americans in the not-too-distant future. They see church membership declining and some churches closing. They see interracial and same-sex couples in TV commercials. They support Trump because they think he is the last, best hope for bringing back the America they knew and loved.

Republican aversion to the contemporary Democratic agenda has intensified, according to two sociologists, Rachel Wetts of Brown and Robb Willer of Stanford.

In the abstract of their 2022 paper, “Antiracism and Its Discontents: The Prevalence and Political Influence of Opposition to Antiracism Among White Americans,” Wetts and Willer write:

From calls to ban critical race theory to concerns about “woke culture,” American conservatives have mobilized in opposition to antiracist claims and movements. Here, we propose that this opposition has crystallized into a distinct racial ideology among white Americans, profoundly shaping contemporary racial politics.

Wetts and Willer call this ideology “anti-antiracism” and argue that it “is prevalent among white Americans, particularly Republicans, is a powerful predictor of several policy positions, and is strongly associated with — though conceptually distinct from — various measures of anti-Black prejudice.”

Sympathy versus opposition to antiracism, they continue, “may have cohered into a distinct axis of ideological disagreement which uniquely shapes contemporary racial views that divide partisan groups.”

They propose a three-part definition of anti-antiracism:

Opposition to antiracism involves (1) rejecting factual claims about the prevalence and severity of anti-Black racism, discrimination, and racial inequality; (2) disagreeing with normative beliefs that racism, discrimination and racial inequality are important moral concerns that society and/or government should address; and (3) displaying affective reactions of frustration, anger and fatigue with these factual and normative claims as well as the activists and movements who make them.

The degree to which the partisan divide has become still more deeply ingrained was captured by three political scientists, John Sides of Vanderbilt and Chris Tausanovitch and Lynn Vavreck, both of U.C.L.A., in their 2022 book, “The Bitter End.”

Vavreck wrote by email that she and her co-authors described

the state of American politics as “calcified.” Calcification sounds like polarization but it is more like “polarization-plus.” Calcification derives from an increased homogeneity within parties, an increased heterogeneity between the parties (on average, the parties are getting farther apart on policy ideas), the rise in importance of issues based on identity (like immigration, abortion, or transgender policies) instead of, for example, economic issues (like tax rates and trade), and finally, the near balance in the electorate between Democrats and Republicans. The last item makes every election a high-stakes election — since the other side wants to build a world that is quite different from the one your side wants to build.

The Sides-Tausanovitch-Vavreck argument receives support in a new paper by the psychologists Adrian Lüders, Dino Carpentras and Michael Quayle of the University of Limerick in Ireland. The authors demonstrate not only how ingrained polarization has become, but also how attuned voters have become to signals of partisanship and how adept they now are at using cues to determine whether a stranger is a Democrat or Republican.

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