Visiting Professors Discuss Current Political Division

By Anna Thielen | Collegian Contributing Writer

In a nation divided, how can we stand? An event titled “Bridging the Political Divide” tackled this question. Hosted by the Politics department on April 19, the event was led by Nina Moore, a professor of Political Science at Colgate University, and sociologist Arlie Hochschild, Professor of Sociology at the University of California. 

The two speakers opened with their concerns about the growing political divide in the United States between liberals and conservatives. This divide, they claimed, is weakening our nation and challenging our notion of what it means to be an American.
Democrats stigmatize Republicans as racist and backwards, while Republicans condemn Democrats for being hypocrites and self-interested. Understanding this deepening political division in and between parties was explained by Moore and Hochschild as being complex and deeply nuanced.

The complexity of this division is then exacerbated by the refusal of both political parties to communicate and understand the opposing point of view. “At the moment in this country, we have two monologues and no dialogue” said Hochschild. 

Social media has a large hand in perpetuating the monologue and preventing dialogue, according to Moore. “We now have to deal with what is called confirmation bias where both the left and the right gravitate towards media outlets who reinforce their beliefs” said Moore. She elaborated on this idea, as she is convinced the echo-chambers media has only reinforced political bias along with fear and hatred of those who do not share one’s ideologies.

“We don’t try to understand,” agreed Hochschild in response to Moore’s comments about social media. What we need to seek, Hochschild explained, are the deep stories. “Underlying politics is the ‘deep story,’” said Hochschild. These are the personal stories that pry at the root of people’s identity—the sum of experiences that drive decision making. These stories are not simple. They are complex, laced with emotion, and justified rationality. “We must recognize your deep story is just as real for you as mine is for me,” added Moore.

By gaining an understanding of the deep stories of our political opponents, the speakers concluded that we, as Americans, can begin healing the divide. Hochschild ended with a story of two women in the South—one who was politically progressive and the other who was a staunch supporter of the Tea Party. “And yet, they both loved music and culture. They would both have tea at each other’s houses,” Hochschild said. “What if the whole culture could learn something from this? This respect.”

In a country deeply divided and fragmented along political lines, tension continues to grow. Moore’s and Hochschild’s solution of reaching across the divide and finding common ground through the deep stories that make us human, may be  taking us one step closer to finishing the monologue and transitioning into a dialogue.

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