Bridging the Political Divide
One in six Americans have stopped talking to a family member or a close friend due to the 2016 election. This increasing polarization and political divide is creating a social crisis, according to American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, and is the subject of his new book Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt. Brooks discussed the book in conversation with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd at an event in Washington on Thursday.
For Brooks, the danger is not so much anger. “Anger is a hot emotion that says I care,” he explained. Rather, as the book title suggests, the real threat is contempt for others. Contempt results in a complete lack of caring or interest in engaging those on other sides of the debate. According to Brooks, “if you want to love your enemies, you have to declare war on contempt. Not on somebody’s else contempt. Your own contempt. You need to break the habit.”
Brooks believes that any enduring solution ultimately must come from a social movement, not a top-down change, explaining that “most leaders are responding to market signals. You need to change the incentive structure for politicians and political leaders.” And while he doesn’t expect significant improvement in the near term, he points to the fact that nearly all Americans express displeasure at the level of division within the country as a source for optimism.
From a policy perspective, AEI has also emphasized engagement and discussion across the political spectrum. This includes an AEI-Brookings working group on paid family and medical leave, which seeks to build consensus around policies that could be implemented at the federal level.
Brooks is stepping down as president of AEI in June and becoming a professor at Harvard University. He said he plans to devote his time going forward to finding ways to inspire change around divisions in the broader culture – “upstream” from the political process.