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Republicans Orrin Hatch & Lindsey Graham work with Democrats to preserve the Filibuster

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

With Republicans now controlling all three branches of government, some have suggested that they should remove the filibuster in the Senate, which is the one lever that Democrats can currently use to make their voices heard.  However, more senior senators such as Orrin Hatch and Lindsey Graham have opposed such efforts, even as it would make their preferred legislation easier.

From Upworthy:

Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chamber’s longest-serving Republican, is standing up for … Senate Democrats. Hatch, who has served nearly 40 years in the Senate, knows a thing or two about the importance of minority powers as a form of checks and balances.

“Are you kidding?” Hatch responded to a question asked by The Huffington Post about ending the filibuster. “I’m one of the biggest advocates for the filibuster. It’s the only way to protect the minority, and we’ve been in the minority a lot more than we’ve been in the majority. It’s just a great, great protection for the minority.”

From the Huffington Post:

With Republicans in control of the House, the Senate and, come January, the White House, calls have come from some quarters of the Republican Party to eliminate the filibuster and ram through an unadulterated Trumpian agenda.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday thoroughly rejected that approach. “That’s a horrible, terrible idea,” he said after an off-camera briefing with reporters in the Capitol.

Asked if he’d vote against the effort if it came to the Senate floor, he said he would “in a heartbeat.”

Requiring Trump to work with Democrats, Graham added, gives him the chance to make the kinds of deals he wants to make. “There are deals to be made in this body ― big, huge deals,” he said.

This is one of many posts made as part of a post-2016 election project to create a more positive social media environment, helping to counter the partisanship that currently dominates.  Given that negative information is more readily clicked on than positive information, we are hopeful that our readers will seek to consciously break out of this pattern by helping us share articles like this.  Research suggests that seeing members of your group cooperate across group boundaries can lead to a reduction of inter-group tension and we are hopeful that having more such stories of cooperation represented in social media will make an impact.

- Ravi Iyer

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Fight for What You Believe, But Hate Will Never Drive Out Hate

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I did a radio show earlier today that you can listen to here and I’ve been thinking about the final caller of our segment, who expressed a desire to fight for what they believe in, rather than engaging in a “kumbaya” moment of coming together.  I absolutely think people should fight for what they believe in.  But sometimes the way you fight is with toughness and sometimes it is with love or healing.  I’m reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that a great deal of research has shown to be a fundamental truth.  Extremism begets extremism.  Killing begets killingViolence begets violence.

mlk  It is a truth that directly relates to the cycles of incivility that we see in American politics and a truth that social psychologists often study, because group level reactions to conflict, extremism, violence, and incivility/demonization are fairly predictable; they incite more of the same.  Indeed, there is clear evidence that Terry JonesOsama Bin LadenCharles Manson, and other extremists understand this implicitly and commit their extremist acts with the idea of inciting a wider war.   Psychology research backs their methods.

 

 

Given the reliability with which extremists can create cycles of violence, it remains imperative that those of us who want reduced extremism, incivility, and violence realize the situational causes and consider how to frame things as a cooperative goal of moderates vs. extremists, instead of the conflict frame that extremists might prefer.

It’s an imperative that Martin Luther King put as follows:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love… Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. … Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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A Post-Election Reconciliation Guide for 2016

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No matter who wins tomorrow, we need to remember that elections are a means, not an end, and the goal of both political parties is to improve the lives of American citizens, no matter who they voted for.  After such a bitter election season, it will no doubt be hard to work together on governing for the common good, and so we collected the below links that provide advice on how to move bridge our divisions on November 9th.

- This essay by Jon Haidt and I in the Wall Street Journal is a far more conversational restatement of many of the themes we talk about on CivilPolitics.

- Brian Klaas writes in Foreign Policy about what we can learn from reconciliation in more fragile democracies like Tunisia, where members of the winning party actively sought buy-in from those who lost, listened to their concerns, and developed working relationships that dispelled many of the worst fears of election day losers.

- Eric Liu writes in The Atlantic about how reconciliation requires empathic listening and “doing stuff together” in order to reach a place where we still argue, but do so in a more productive way.

- This article talks about how churches are bringing people together under the unifying goal of doing God’s work.

We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that most all of these articles involve specific ideas to implement our over-arching recommendations for disagreeing in a productive way – specifically building relationships and creating cooperative situations.  For our part, in addition to our regular programs, we will be specifically trying to create a more civil social media atmosphere by highlighting situations where partisans work together across the aisle.  If you want to help us improve the partisan atmosphere on social media, please do join our Facebook community and help us spread the word that American democracy is not just arguing about which candidate is worse, but all is still often about working together for the common good.

- Ravi Iyer

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A More Civil Social Media Feed

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This election season has been ugly enough to turn off even the most avid political junkie and few people will be sad to see it end. Social media has become ground zero of the ugliness, as research has shown that social media often amplifies the political negativity that already exists.  Students of psychology will be unsurprised by this as it is a consistent finding that negative information tends to be more powerful than positive information.  You are more likely to click or donate when an ad tells you how dire a situation is, and so we get ever more social media stories designed to get us to click on their ever more negative and sensational headlines.  And as the algorithms learn that we tend to click on negative stories, we get more of what we click on, leading to a death spiral where our social media feeds are full of the latest political attacks, strangely interspersed with intermittent photos of our friends’ children.

None of us likes this, but there is one thing we can do about it – consciously changing the composition of our social media feeds and by extension, that of our friends, in order to create a more civil Facebook feed.   In the context of this election, it was natural for all of us (me included) to share negative information about the other candidate, in order to achieve our competitive goal.  But after this election, we should take the candidates’ words – that this election is about us and not them – to heart, and focus on the goals we all want to see pass, if only to reduce the acrimony that has made reading social media so dreary for months.

fblikesvssharesAccordingly, CivilPolitics is going to start a new initiative after the election where we post articles about liberals and conservatives working together for the common good.  These stories are not sensational enough to get clicks nor are they likely to lead to donations, so they tend to be under-represented on social media.  By spending our time and money (in the form of social media promotion) on spreading such messages, we will not only help re-train the algorithms of those who choose to help spread these messages, but will also help create an “extended contact effect” where simply knowing that members of opposing groups are working together will help reduce the tensions this election created.  This isn’t something we can do alone, so we are going to explicitly ask you to re-share these messages (sharing retrains Facebook’s algorithms much more than clicking or liking) with your community, in the hopes we can create a more civil social media experience for us all.

Watch this space for more information on November 9th.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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Mark Zuckerberg Exhibits Civility in Business

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Civility as we pursue it is the ability to disagree productively with others, respecting their sincerity and decency.  It does not mean that you will come to an agreement with others, but simply won’t villainize them in a way that invariably leads to an inability to compromise, harsh words, and other ugly behavior.   Recently, many have taken issue with those in their workplace, like Peter Thiel at Facebook, who have supported Donald Trump’s campaign.  As Mark Zuckerberg writes , it is easy to be civil with people we agree with, but trying to create an environment that respects people of all viewpoints requires us to give people the benefit of the doubt – that disagreement does not necessarily come from a place of evil.  The full letter, posted internally to Facebook employees, is shown above and is well worth reading.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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American Democracy as a Shared Goal that Unites Liberals and Conservatives

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One of our main evidence-based recommendations is to try to find common goals when seeking to unite groups that have a moral conflict.  Recently, two events have gotten me thinking about how to apply this more specifically to the current political division through a relatively benign shared goal – the goal of staying true to the founding fathers’ idea of American Democracy.

american-flag-447444_960_720I recently attended a gathering of concerned citizens – liberal and conservative – put on by Better Angels.  While most of us in the room were very politically active and gathered out of a concern for rising polarization, we recognized that we had challenges in getting less politically active citizens engaged in the relatively abstract and uninspiring goal of “depolarizing” American politics.  We had particular issues in attracting more conservative citizens for whom rhetoric around conflict reduction can seem like code words for liberal ways of thinking.  We were lucky enough to have some conservative representation in the room, which is a testament to Better Angels’ network, and they felt that the positive goal of promoting the American democratic ideal was indeed something they (and perhaps conservatives like them) would gravitate toward.  Given that common goals are a proven way to bring groups together and that waiting for the next 9/11 style attack or war to provide that goal, our nation seems in need of a common goal that can indeed unite us in relatively peaceful times – and specifically a goal that can get conservatives and liberals both interested in increasing civility in politics.

Around this time, Donald Trump has been engaging in rhetoric that seems designed to undermine our faith in democratic institutions, by pointedly failing to reassure citizens that he would accept the results of the election and facilitate a peaceful, civil transfer of power.  In light of our gathering’s suggestion for a common goal, I couldn’t help but notice how Trump’s rhetoric united many liberals and conservatives in their defense of our electoral system.  Consider this essays penned by the loser of the Republican loser of the 2008 election.

From CBS News:

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential election as the Republican nominee, slammed Trump’s behavior Thursday, penning a lengthy statement that never once mentioned his party’s candidate.

“All Arizonans and all Americans should be confident in the integrity of our elections,” McCain said in a statement Thursday. “Free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power are the pride of our country, and the envy of much of the world because they are the means to protecting our most cherished values, the right to liberty and equal justice.”

“There have been irregularities in our elections, sometimes even fraud, but never to an extent that it affected the outcome. We should all be proud of that, and respect the decision of the majority even when we disagree with it. Especially when we disagree with it,” he added.

McCain went on to discuss the results of the 2008 election.

“I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election,” he said. “But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance. A concession isn’t just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader’s first responsibility.

Many more Republicans have either criticized Trump’s remarks or attempted to walk them back for him, suggesting that the ideal of American Democracy is indeed strong enough to transcend partisanship.  It is also something that groups like The Village Square use to great effect in their programming.  So perhaps the next time you’re seeking something to bridge a liberal-conservative divide in your community, family or city – consider respect for the unique nature of American Democracy itself as a common goal that we can all work toward together.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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Civil Politics on Science Friday and Peace Talks Radio

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For those of you looking for a break from the everyday partisanship that characterizes this election season, you can catch Civil Politics on 2 recent radio shows/podcasts.

ScienceFridayProfessor Matt Motyl and Liz Joyner of the Village Square were recently on this episode of Science Friday.  What was notable for me in this episode were some of the stories that dovetailed well with our recommendations, such as an elected Democrat in rural conservative Wisconsin who go to where she was by making friends with people first, rather than starting with politics.

 

 

 

 

 

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I also had the pleasure of being interviewed for Peace Talks Radio (listen here), where I was able to convey many of the same messages that we relate on this website regarding the importance of relationships and of moving away from competitive inter-group dynamics.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bridging the Divide between Sensitivity to Minorities and Free Speech

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While we often study issues related to bridging divisions between liberals and conservatives, there are many issues that aren’t quite as clear cut. We recently studied an event put on by The Village Square concerning the tension between sensitivity to minorities on campus, which sometimes involve limits on what people can express, versus the principle of free speech. Recent controversies at universities like Claremont Mckenna, Yale, and the University of Missouri have highlighted these tensions, with liberals tending to be more in favor of protecting minorities, but also often pitting liberals against fellow liberals.

At the beginning of the event, the liberal leaning audience was indeed more implicitly inclined toward people who want to err on the side of sensitivity toward minorities, feeling that such people were more likely to be good people who they would want to be friends with.  Knowing this, the organizers of the event were able to recruit a free speech advocate who argued their point from a liberal perspective. From the Village Square’s description of their event.

For our Free Speech program we started with a liberal local Rabbi as facilitator who had a very positive relationship with an African American community leader who is beloved locally – and who until recently was a Republican. We knew that Mr. Hobbs had some empathy for both the need to protect minorities and the value of free speech. To complete the panel, we invited Jonathan Rauch of Brookings Institute, who saw the danger of the anti-free speech trends on campus earlier than anyone, originally publishing “Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought” in 1993. Rauch argues that the protection of free speech actually protects and advances the cause of minority students – so he makes a liberal argument for a more classically conservative value. Another quality we liked for our panel is that he’s Jewish, so it gave him something deeply in common with our facilitator (to balance the existing positive relationship between the facilitator and Mr. Hobbs). This very high level of pre-existing empathy and cross-cutting relationships made this program quite easy compared to our usual programs, as well as especially enjoyable – though lacked as much tension as some programs do.

We always arrange a meeting between panelists ahead of the program. This gives them the opportunity to break bread together and bond as human beings, by the time they’re on stage they feel to all like friends. As we met for breakfast the morning of the program, when one panelist shushed me up because he wanted to hear more details from the other panelists about something, I sat back and said to our facilitator “my work here is done.” We call this whole process leading up to whoever is on our stage as choreography. We think it is central in delivering results. By the time the program begins, much of the fate of the program is “baked in.” In fact, one could reverse these principles to engineer a disaster, or pay no attention to them and throw the results out to luck.

Following exposure to Mr. Rauch and the generally friendly discussion between people on opposite sides of the issue, the liberal audience’s opinions about those who emphasize free speech rose to be comparable to opinions about those who emphasize sensitivity to minorities (see the below graph for a pre vs post event comparison).

Free Speech vs. Sensitivity to Minorities Event Results

As we have found in previous studies of events, there was little change in people’s attitudes about the issue.  The generally liberal audience did not feel any differently about protecting minorities or free speech.  However, they did feel differently about those who they may disagree with.  It is this difference that enables people who disagree about issues to work together, and if we can get more friendly conversations across this divide, and get people out of their moral communities, then perhaps we can avoid a repeat of some of the ugly scenes we have seen on college campuses between two groups of people who both have genuinely good intentions.

- Ravi Iyer

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Helping People Sympathize with both Cops and Minorities

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When bad things happen, there is a natural psychological tendency to spread blame around.  Consider this piece of psychological research from Joshua Knobe where he shows that when someone causes harm to the environment, they are deemed to be doing so intentionally, whereas when they cause benefit to the environment, they don’t get the same credit.  Unfortunately, we often blame not only people who are directly responsible for a bad event, but members of the “groups” that people involved belong to.

Consider these reactions to recent shootings of both officers in Dallas and civilians by officers.

 

4 dead.

Obama stoked the flame.

BLM did this.

Cops are dying.

— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) July 8, 2016

 

There is no such thing as a good cop.#CommunitySelfDefense #StopCallingCops #FuckTheCops #CopsLivesDontMatter #Fuck12

— Talib Asadullah (@murphey_caleb) May 5, 2016

 

Fortunately, both of the above reactions are rare and most people realize that it is possible to sympathize with both the police and the minorities who have been killed in recent events.

According to Dallas police, protesters helped capture the shooters. And cops helped shuttle protesters to safety during the attack.

— George Hunter (@GeorgeHunter_DN) July 8, 2016

It is possible to understand and sympathize with the anger and frustration of black people AND think it’s wrong to shoot cops.

— Peter Grosz (@petergrosz) July 8, 2016

 

For those of us seeking to understand people’s reactions to events better, with an eye toward defusing conflict, this paper on “Vicarious Retribution” (full text here) provides a good model, bringing together a variety of research, of how such conflict perpetuates itself and how such conflict can be reduced.  Let me highlight 2 passages from this paper that recommend specific ideas for those who want to intentionally reduce the potential for conflict.

copshugprotestors

 

Focus on Feelings of Sympathy for victims:

The final emotion that may be relevant for defusing cycles of retributive aggression is sympathy. Some research suggests that focusing on the harm that has befallen the outgroup (rather than the bad acts of one’s ingroup) elicits feelings of sympathy rather than guilt and that sympathy has a stronger relationship with changing the system of intergroup relations to avoid against future conflict than does guilt (Iyer et al., 2003).

Highlight the individuality of cops and minorities:

The first process that should be initiated (according to Pettigrew, 1998) is decategorization. This approach involves reducing or eliminating social categorization by increasing differentiation and personalization between group members (Brewer & Miller, 1984; Ensari & Miller, 2001; N. Miller, 2002). From our perspective, decategorization (particularly if it is in the form of personalization) is indeed an important first step in breaking the cycle of vicarious retribution.

As with much of what we have found evidence for in reducing inter-ideological divisions, it often comes down to finding common goals (e.g. sympathizing with the families affected by all of the recent shootings and preventing further tragedy) and building personal relationships with others who we might be tempted to stereotype.  Whether you are more naturally inclined to identify more with minority groups or police officers, the current moment is a time when people on either side of the issue can sympathize with those who have lost their lives recently and work together on our collective desire for a safer, less divided country.

- Ravi Iyer

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Bridging the Divide Between Religious Liberty and Marriage Equality

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I was recently invited to a small gathering of individuals on both sides of the marriage equality vs. religious liberty debate. These issues aren’t necessarily inter-twined, but there have been several high profile cases where homosexuals who were getting married and wanted to be treated equally by businesses in their community have run into business owners who feel that it is a violation of their religious freedom to be forced to facilitate gay marriages. This divide, between those who advocate for marriage equality and those who advocate for religious freedom, has been at the center of numerous recent state law controversies, with the governor of Georgia vetoing legislation that would have emphasized religious freedom while states like Mississippi and Indiana having passed such legislation.

The takeaway I got from the meeting was that the debate need not be so polarized, and that when good people on both sides of the debate are put into the same room (and there are good people on both sides), they naturally become sensitive to the sincere concerns of others about how they felt in being denied service or having their faith-based motives questioned.  There are many advocates of gay marriage who care deeply about faith and want to be respectful of those who are religious.  And there are many advocates of religious freedom who care deeply about the feelings of homosexuals.  As is suggested in our research, when the debate becomes less about abstract policies and more about finding a way to compromise with people you have spent time with and gotten to know at a personal level, common ground is possible.

This was certainly our experience of the event, but we also have data to this effect.  We were lucky enough to have been invited to survey participants about their feelings before and after the event, concerning people who they agreed with or disagreed with in the context of this debate.  The below chart shows change in agreement to various statements, with positive values indicating more agreement after the event and negative values indicating less agreement.  As you can see in the chart below, after the event, people came away feeling that both issues were more important, that they shared values more with people of the other side, and that they felt less social distance (more willingness to be friends) toward both groups.  There was also more feeling that religious liberty advocates tend to be good people, though little change in attitudes toward advocates of gay marriage, as participants actually came in with surprisingly consistently positive attitudes toward this group already, leaving little room for improvement.  That could be something more general or something specific to this group that was willing to meet, which perhaps did not include the most extreme individuals in each camp.  Still, overall, while the sample size is not big enough for a traditional academic study, there was certainly a self-reported shift amongst a number of people as a result of such a meeting, which was also echoed explicitly by comments by people in the room after the event..

marriage_equality_vs_religious_liberty2

Positive scores indicate greater agreement after the event. Negative scores indicate more disagreement after the event.

Our experience of this event dovetails well with what most people know as common sense. Rarely are people convinced by facts as to the error of their opinions. There are good people on both sides of the gay marriage/religious liberty debate and they would do well to get to know each other better, as when people on opposite sides get to know each other first, they produce less polarization….and the potential for policies that respect both groups.

- Ravi Iyer

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