Can Polarization Be Reduced By Exchanging Cookie Recipes?

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Doug Berger 0:01
In this episode, I examine political polarization, which many people feel is a threat to our democracy. I take a look at two projects, that think talking things out will lead to shiny, happy people, rainbows and unicorns. I’m Doug Berger. And this is Secular Left

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Doug Berger 0:35
Welcome to another episode of secular left, I’m your host, Doug Berger. And before we get into the meat of our topics today, I wanted to point out my new chapeau, like that? Fresh brand new in our merchandise store is a Secular Left baseball cap. With the alternate logo, this is the one we use for embroidery, because it’s a lot easier to embroider, then then my channel art. Yeah, I tried to, they don’t like that brick wall. So I came up with this alternative logo. And so that’s available there. So if you haven’t checked it out, check it out our merchandise store, it’s And get it today.

Doug Berger 1:32
The topic that I wanted to address today, at least in this segment, is political polarization. Now, if you follow politics like I do, and and you read a lot of articles about it, and you listen to a lot of stories in the media pull, they talk about political polarization, they talk about polarization is the worst in 40 years and and Democrats and Republicans don’t see eye to eye on anything. And oh, my gosh, what can we do about it? Now I agree. It can be bad. political polarization can be bad. It is part of our democracy, though. You’re going to have some polarization, you’re going to have some people who are straight line Democrats and straight line Republicans, and they won’t cross they won’t. They don’t want to deal with Republicans. They don’t want to deal with Democrats, whatever. And so that’s political polarization. Well, I know, the way I describe it probably isn’t the best way. But if you get a definition, it’s a prominent component of politics in the United States. Scholars distinguish between ideological polarization, which is differences between the policy and policy and positions, and affective polarization, a dislike and distrust of political outgroups, both of which are apparent in United States. And as they most of the academics say differences in political ideals and policy goals, are addicted indicative of a healthy democracy. And so as the academics say, it’s part of our system. It’s part of who we are as a democracy, that you’re going to have some polarization. Now, has it gotten worse? Well, for somebody like me, who is on the left side of the aisle, yes, it’s gotten worse. Because the elected officials, the people who do the day to day governing, that pass the laws, create and pass the laws have shifted to the right considerably in the last 50 years. The Republicans control a lot of the state houses now in a controlled Congress on occasion, and the judiciary has also been more conservative. And, and so there’s been a lot of polarization on that on that front. It can be bad that’s it can be bad. It Well, it is in that particular case, it is bad, because the conservative agenda, it hurts people in general, you have tax breaks given to corporations instead of people that doesn’t in and we know from from the evidence that it does not trickle down to Mom and Pop on Main Street. Tax breaks do not trickle down. They’re not paid for. You have more and more money spent on military spending. The United States still has the largest the most technologically advanced military in the world. And in fact, we spend more per capita than I think it’s the next 10 countries. And for what reason? Why do we do that? And it’s kind of interesting that we have the money to spend on the military. And, and conservatives claim, well, we can’t afford to spend money on the social safety net, or the social safety net has to be paid for, etc. So, you know, that’s, that’s a problem. That’s a left right problem. So, if you talk to people who are interested in politics like myself, you want to see what you can do to reduce polarization. And the other night, I was watching 60 Minutes, and they had a story about this program called one small step. And it is created by Dave Isay, who also created StoryCorp. People who are very familiar with NPR should know what story core is, since they do a segment on story core, once a week, or have been for many years. And what that is, is you get two people who know each other.

Doug Berger 6:29
Maybe their father, son, you know, Aunt, Aunt nephew, who get together, and they record their story, whatever story that is. In the example, in the 60 minutes piece, it was a gentleman who was a world war two veteran who recently passed away in his 90s and his two grand children, I think it’s grandchildren got together and talked about this, this war veteran and, and how much they loved him and some of the interesting things about them. And so they get these recordings, and they’ve done 1000s of these recordings. And they collect them and store them at the library Congress so that future generations can hear these stories that are significant for time and place, you know, the stories that they recorded in the early aughts s, as we geeks like to call the the before 2010 are going to be very different than the stories that they record. Let’s say that in 2022. So, StoryCorp is a good program. I like it. It’s very interesting. PBS have had, they’ve shown like some animated videos of some of the stories, and that’s good. Well, Dave Isay, also was concerned about political polarization. And so he started this other program called One Small Step. And what, how about if we, what I’m going to do is I’m going to play a clip, a brief clip, about a minute or so from the 60 minutes piece. And he kind of explains the gist of it, and what’s going on, and then we’ll come back and talk about it.

Norah O’Donnell 8:20
Dave Isay seems to always be listening, always taking notes, even during our interview, he told us journalism should be a public service, and now hopes that one small step can help end what he calls the culture of contempt that is tearing apart the country.

Dave Isay 8:37
The situation is so bad that, you know if if the culture of contempt wins, things are just not going to end well. For the United States,

Norah O’Donnell 8:47
what’s fueling the culture of contempt,

Dave Isay 8:50
its media,its social media. I mean, there’s a multi multi billion dollar hate industrial complex, where people, you know, can make money by making us hate and fear each other. It’s a little bit of a David and Goliath fight here.

Norah O’Donnell 9:06
What’s the difference between regular story core and one small step? So every

Dave Isay 9:10
regular StoryCorps interview are people who know and love each other, and every one small step interview are strangers. And in the case of one small step, it’s people who are across the political divide. So we match strangers who disagree politically, to put them face to face for 15 minutes. It’s not to talk about politics. It’s just to talk about your life.

Doug Berger 9:30
Okay, so just to recap, one small step pair strangers with different political beliefs for a 50 minute conversation about their lives, not about politics. Dave Isay he believes that growing divisions in our country pose a threat to our democracy. And so he is one of those people that believe that that, you know, to reduce the hate and the anger, we just need to get in a room and talk about What kind of cookies we like? Yeah. I don’t buy it. I don’t pay. I mean, he claims that scientific that’s contact was a contact kindness. I just don’t see reducing political polarization that we’ve seen in this country recently by talking to somebody about what kind of silent movie they like, how many kids they have. What did they do last weekend it at their lake house? Do they mulch their yard? I mean, I get where he’s coming from I get his perspective. And some and liberal whites kind of get into that bubble where they think that it the only problem is that we just don’t know each other. The it that’s not a problem, at least not for me. I mean, maybe it is a problem for some people that they don’t know their neighbors are no what what? What floats their boat? I guess I’m maybe I’m different. That could be. That could be true. I could be different. But my if I have anger I I wouldn’t use the word anger. I’m not. I’m angry at their actions. I’m angry at the bigotry. I’m angry at at the carelessness that they and the indifference that many in the conservative sphere. The politicians that get the time on TV and in the media that they express. I don’t feel that for Joe Schmo Joe Schmoe Republican, because I don’t personally know Joe Schmoe Republican. But I will say that if Joe Schmoe Republican votes for the conservative bigot bigot, who doesn’t believe that LGBT people deserve the same treatment as anyone else, then I highly suspect that Joe Schmoe might be a bigot as well. I don’t have any proof unless I actually talked to him. And I guess that’s true. But in one small step, you don’t talk about politics. So how do you find that out? You don’t you don’t know how they feel about politics. All you know is they matched you. Because if you’re liberal, they’re conservative. But you don’t know if they’re a flaming conservative. What I like to call flaming, or militant, militant liberal as some of the people on the right like to call some people you know, and yeah, you don’t, you don’t come to an understanding when you call somebody deplorable or moron. But the problem is you, you got to be able to call out their bigotry, you got to call out how they are not correct. You know, it’s about truth. You know, we get away from that in politics quite a lot. I don’t know how that how this started. But, you know, you see it every day now. You see this battle of truth. And one side operates with, in with truth, and one side does not and it’s obvious. And, you know, it’s like LGBT people are people, trans people are people. Love is love. The social safety net is needed. And no, it’s not based on who deserves it. You know, people should deserve it, because they’re human beings. And we should help people that are struggling. You know, that’s the truth. If you help somebody who needs help, eventually, they’re going to pay it back.

Doug Berger 14:19
Somebody who’s on public assistance today, could find a better job tomorrow and contribute more in taxes and, and, and buying stuff at the local mall. And people on public assistance do that already. They still pay taxes, they still go to the mall, you know, they still need clothes, they still need jeans. You know, they might have a car, because many places in order to work you need a car. And so you know the polarization exists. And the other thing, the other thing too, that leads to polarization Is to gerrymandering we see in, in the voting districts where Republicans have been in charge, at least here in the state of Ohio and other places too. And in Illinois, the Democrats are in charge, where they, after every census, they write, they draw these maps to be highly partisan, to have safe districts, safe districts, for Republicans, or whichever majority party of that state. That’s not being responsive to your electorate. And that’s why we get polarization. Here in Ohio, they see more hell bent on passing laws that favor the pandemic. You know, they passed a law to prevent the state from closing down businesses during a pandemic. And the unintended consequences, people don’t think that they won’t be able to close them down because of health violations now, because they are so hell bent on keeping businesses open, because they made the pandemic political. You know, who does that? That’s not good for this country. You know, that’s, that’s the other thing that’s missing is one side is about helping the common good. And the other side is about enriching themselves, or enriching the the, the corporate class, I like to call it in our media, our corporate media doesn’t help. You know, they play they play that game with both sides. You know, they think that both sides are have valid viewpoints. And that’s not that’s not true. You know, politics should be based on truth. First, it should be based on a foundation of truth. What is true, you know, public policy should be what it should be based on where you want to be in the future. And the discussion should be how do we get there? And it shouldn’t be on, you know, and that’s not how the discussions go anymore. You know, the Voting Rights Act, is currently being considered in the Senate. And right now, Mitch McConnell, this the, the minority leader, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, stopped a vote, a simple vote up and down vote on voting rights, because he didn’t want to give a win to President Joe Biden. That’s what that’s what politics has become in Washington. You know, it’s been a zero sum game. You know, how does this benefit my party? Instead of how does this benefit the country? That’s where polarization comes from? You know, get me talking to Joe Schmoe Republican, about what kind of cookies he likes, isn’t going to solve. Mitch McConnell playing a zero sum game with the lives of people in this country? You know, simply because he’s taken off? Oh, we won one. They lost one. Ah, you know, that that is what causes the polarization.

Doug Berger 18:28
You know, and the other thing that causes polarization, then is it kind of feeds on itself? Because you get people with highly extreme political views. Like, some of the anti Abortionists that are in the Ohio legislature currently, who pass these laws, these anti abortion laws, that then demoralizes people who are against that, and then and then they don’t come out and vote, because they don’t think that the government’s working for them. You know, and so, I mean, I agree with Isay’s his point in the 60 minutes piece, that that happens that people think that they’re not being listened to. And that that drives polarization. I agree with that part. But again, getting it getting into a room with Joe Schmo Republican or if you’re a Republican getting in a room with with Jon Snow Democrat, and talking over, you know, Thelonious Monk albums, you like, that’s not going to stop that that’s not going to end that. You know, you’re just gonna say, oh, yeah, that guy. You know, I hate his guts. I hate his politics. But, you know, we’re going to a jazz concert next week. You know, that doesn’t bring understanding. I don’t think I don’t think the problem with polarization is understanding it The system, it’s the mechanics of democracy, driven by polarization, that’s the problem. And so we have to reform the mechanics. You know, starting with voting reform, we have to federalize the elections and strip away the suppression efforts and, and all the different laws in the states and have a uniform election format. And then we have to get rid of the gerrymandered districts, we just have to clear them out and start over and in, that’s what’s gonna lead to a lessening of polarization. I promise you, that is the real solution, you know, getting into a room and talking about cookies, that’s not gonna, that’s not going to help, you know, because that’s not the problem, anger, anger at somebody being angry at somebody is not the problem right now. I mean, yeah, there’s people that are that that’s the other point want to make, too is, is this anger isn’t a two way street. You don’t have Democrats as angry as Republicans at their opposites. You know, most of the anger comes from, from the right, and then and then people will say, But Doug, what about those protests after George Floyd was murdered in 2020, when they had those reports for days on end of those Antifa people trying to destroy a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon? Well, the thing is, well and then and then I would counter with the January six insurrection. at the Capitol when Republicans tried to overturn a fair and secure election. You know, it scale here. It just to point out that the the Antifa protest and the Black Lives Matter protests, they were going against a government, an entity, an institution, they were trying to change the institution to be more responsive to them. They weren’t trying to benefit, selfishly benefit from it. They were trying to help all people, black, white, brown, you know, all that. So they were attacking the institutions. I guess attacking would be a bad word. They were protesting the institutions, sometimes in, in political protests. violence happens, especially when you have a desperate group who believe they have not been heard. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s what that Dave Isay was talking about. But we don’t see that coming from the left very often. It’s not happening every day. You see that from the right. They get very upset. You know, look at the school board meetings. The mask protests, the vaccine protests. The tried to a group of conservatives try had a plan to kidnap the governor of Michigan.

Doug Berger 23:28
You know, that’s political violence. That’s large scale political violence, trying to kidnap a governor, to overthrow that government. And that’s the thing. The people on the right were trying to overthrow the government. The Black Lives Matter protests, they weren’t trying to overthrow the government, they are trying to get the government to respond to them, and be better have a better response to them to stop the killings by cops and, and do better with the social safety net. You know, they were trying to help people. By by throwing stones at a federal courthouse, they were making a point. They weren’t trying to storm the courthouse. And so that’s the thing when we talk about political polarization and and how it is a problem in this country. And again, I I’m all for, you know, one small step. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. I’m just saying it’s not going to help. It may make some people feel better about themselves. If they talk to Joe Schmo conservative Joe Schmo liberal, but it’s not going to end it’s really not going to end polarization. We have to reform the institutions.

Doug Berger 24:54
For more information about any of the topics covered in this episode, check out our show notes at

Doug Berger 25:07
And while we’re on the topic of political polarization, I wanted to talk about another group that’s, that’s been formed recently, that has attempted to do the same thing that one small step that I talked about the previous segment, trying to gather people with different viewpoints, and talk about those viewpoints to try to have a better understanding, under this impression that if you better understand people that you’re, you’re opposed to that somehow that that will lessen political polarization. And as I said, that’s mean, that’s a good, I’m not opposed to that idea. I just don’t think getting into a room and talking necessarily will reduce polarization. But what it is, is this, it’s this group, it’s called Braver Angels. It’s a nonprofit, which seeks to reduce political polarization and divisiveness through public debates and community workshops. And I have not had a personal experience with braver angels. But a friend of mine, James Croft, who is the senior leader of the Ethical Society of St. Louis, participated in a recent one, while recent, last year in March, and wrote an essay about it. On his substack, it kind of kind of spoke to me a little bit, kind of, he comes up with some of the same issues that we talked about in the previous segment, about political polarization, specifically, and, and talking about the issues. Now, where braver angels is different than one small step, braver angels gathers more than one more than one other person, it’s, I think, they say, groups of 10, you know, five or 10 people get together who have differing differing views, not I mean, they all don’t have different views. But but you know, you might get a mix, you might get four Republicans and four Democrats or, or five liberals and six, conservatives, whatever. And they get together, and they talk about politics. So it’s different than one small step. One small step. They don’t talk about politics, braver angels, they talk about politics, which is an improvement, because I think that’s important. I mean, that’s one of the things that I didn’t like about one small step is they didn’t allow you to talk about politics. And so James Croft participated. Yeah, he was part of the or, I don’t know if he participated. I’m guessing he did. But there was a one back in March, it was called “Voter Fraud, Voter Suppression in the 2020 Election”. And so what I wanted to do is I wanted to read a section of his essay, trying to get to get the gist, so we can talk about it some more. And James writes, braver angels did its regular thing, and brought together some members of the public to speak their truth. Within moments, the speakers on the red side, and that’s how they labeled their groups a red side and a blue side. And, and, and I agree with James that that is not a good way of trying to lessen polarization when you use a label like that, especially if you mean Republicans or Democrats. So the red side, were offering false conspiracy theories. Apparently, it is widely accepted that JFK only won the presidential election in 1960, because of widespread voter fraud, which was false, and that Judge Moscone, won the mayor’s race in San Francisco for the same reason, also false. It was claimed that Democratic Party machines have for years been submitting large numbers of votes from people who did not in fact cast a ballot also false. These people were not called on their conspiracy theories, there was no attempt to correct the record or ensure that the truth was known to to the participants. Rather, they were given a platform to spread falsehoods in the name of encouraging dialogue. And I agree with James that that is the major problem. The major defect of the group braver angels

Doug Berger 29:39
is they have dialogue, but they totally ignore what is true and what is not just for the sake of dialogue, and you are not going to change polarization, unless you address the truth. as I as I mentioned previously, that you have There’s one side that is being truthful and honest. And there is one side that is engaging in conspiracy theories and lying. And those that needs to be called out, bigotry needs to be called out. Now, I understand that some people get their feelings hurt, when they are called out for being not truthful, when they ever being called out for lying, and, and continuing to spread conspiracy theories, I get that, you know, people don’t like to be told that they’re wrong, I get that. But you’re not going to have a healthy democracy, you’re not going to lessen political polarization unless you deal with what is true and what is not true. And call it a call it that. And like I said, you know, this braver angels reminds me of the the current corporate corporate media. Take on politics today. You know, that Rockem sockem, Republicans versus Democrats, Ding Ding, ding, ding, who’s gonna win? That does not help democracy, because that’s not how it should be. It shouldn’t be a battle. There shouldn’t be a winner and a loser. You know, because the winner should be the country. The common good. You know, how’s it how is that particular policy, proposed policy or proposed law? Helping the United States? How is that helping mon paw on Main Street? How is that helping the young urban professional in New York City? You know, there’s people struggling today that need help, that need a strong social safety net. There shouldn’t be a debate about that. But there is because that’s been politicized. You know, when they were doing the discussions about the build better, build back better plan. Biden’s social infrastructure bill, it’s currently under consideration in the Congress. Senator Joe Manchin, who’s a Democrat? Well, some people would say a Democrat name only a Dino, as they call it. He’s a conservative Democrat. He wanted the child tax credit to be abolished. Child Tax Credit, basically is that for families that have children, they get an extra credit on their taxes. So let’s say let’s say you they pay $100 in taxes, and they have two kids, and they get $5 tax credit for both. They can subtract $10 from their taxes. So they pay less less taxes, they keep more in their pocket. Well, he wanted Joe Manchin wanted to get rid of the tax credit in consideration for that bill, because he claimed that, that he was afraid that the parents are going to use the money to buy drugs. You Yeah, a sitting senator of the United States said that in public. You know, that should be called out and it was called out on social media and in in the left side, but in the media, they just left him say it. It’s like being a stenographer, I call being stenographers. Basically, they just let these political people professional political people speak. And then they’re dutifully copying it, and then get it on its way. You know, and I blame a lot of that on Fox News. They’re they’ve been really good at having an… working with a political political party on an agenda. They set the agenda. And then these other media entities like MSNBC and CNN, they’re too scared to call it out because they don’t want to be seen as biased, even though Fox News is definitely biased. And they make no bones about being biased even though they claim that they’re not. They scare and intimidate the other media outlets in the messaging game they call amplifying their message and framing it, how they frame it.

Doug Berger 34:39
So, for example, I just learned I just was talking about this the other day, I took a webinar on on messaging. So forgive me if I spew some of this, for example, back when President Obama was the president, you had this claim by the right that Obama is a Muslim And then you would have people on the left, like myself say, Obama is not a Muslim? Well, what people would hear would be Obama Muslim, they would make that connection, and you couldn’t get rid of that connection. So that’s detrimental to your messaging. So what you would need to say now, in particular, I would not try to say this, but other people of faith based persuasion would say, instead of saying Obama is not a Muslim, they would say, Obama is a Christian. Now to translate that into the media, what the media should have said was not that Obama is not a Muslim, but they should say, Obama is a Christian with a with a video package, showing him going to church, and, and they did that. They did that just not very forcefully. So then you had Trump questioning Obama’s citizenship. And they’re like, Oh, okay… No, that’s not how it should work. The media should say, Well, how do you know that? That’s true. And well, we found that I wanted to share another bit from James Croft’s essay about the braver angels. debate. And he in he writes, this is the problem fundamentally with braver angels. They are dialogue, fetishists. They believe that the deep problems within American democracy can be ameliorated merely through civil dialogue between people who believe different things. But when millions of Americans are captured by conspiracy theories, peddled by some of the most prominent figures in the political world, promoting dialogue, but not truth, responsibility, and civic mindedness is deeply irresponsible, it makes things worse, not better. And so when you play this, both sides game like the media does, and like braver angels does, and gives a platform to Kooks and conspiracy theories and outright fabrications. It doesn’t do us any good. It doesn’t resolve political polarization or lessen that. It’s better to say lessen it be since it’s not ever going to go away. And, and so we need to, you know, besides fixing the systems, the infrastructure that leads to political polarization, such as voting rights, and gerrymandering, and, and we do need to talk, but we need to be able to call out what is true and what is not true in politics. You know, having a debate about how we’re going to help people who are struggling with food, food deserts, we can talk about that, and there can be a difference of opinion. But if they’re saying it, but if one side is saying, well, we can’t afford to pay for it, then we have to be able to say, well, that’s not true. Because all we have to do a slice off, you know, $20 billion from this latest weapon that you want to buy, and spend that on, on lessening food deserts. You know, that’s the truth. And we need to do more of that we need to, to speak more of the truth and call out when people are lying, or giving misinformation. And I’m not talking just fact checking. You know, if somebody is what it is, is, and braver angels does this as well as they in the media, too, is they believe that all viewpoints are equally valid. And we know that is not the case. They are not equally valid. You know, there there may be more than one viewpoint on something. But they’re not all equally valid. And so we need to do a better job of that and stop with this Rockem sockem thing about politics because that harms politics just as much as polarization. We need to stop the horse race and really get into fundamentals and talk about how we’re going to do better for this country for everyone.

Doug Berger 39:33
Thank you for listening to this episode. You can check out more information, including links to sources used in our show notes on our website at secular Secular left is hosted, written and produced by Doug Berger, and he is solely responsible for the content. Send us your comments, either Using the contact form on the website, or by sending us a note at comments at secular Our theme music is dank and nasty composed using amplify studio See you next time

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