What kind of deep-down qualities and values tend to separate liberals and conservatives?
New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall (who, as usual, relies more heavily on scholars to delve into such issues than the usual pundits and politicians) takes a deep dive into that question in his weekly New York Times column, and the insights blew me away, including this one, from one of the many scholars included in the piece:
“It is likely that rather less liberal democracy will ultimately make liberal democracy more secure.”
The rise of Donald Trump, on a platform that included plenty of racism and nativism, led Edsall to pursue, with academics far removed from the more oft-quoted pundits on whom political reporters usually rely, this question:
“What if the belief systems used to justify anti-immigrant policies and to justify race prejudice, for that matter — hostility to outsiders, insularity, high sensitivity to external threat — are as deeply ingrained in the American body politic as belief systems sympathetic to immigration and to racial equality — openness, receptivity to new experiences, trust?”
The answers he obtained were more nuanced than we hear from the usual talking heads on TV. I’ll just give you one taste and then urge you to read the whole thing. Wrote Edsall:
Karen Stenner, a political psychologist and behavioral economist best known for “predicting the rise of Trump-like figures under the kinds of conditions we now confront,” responded to my emailed inquiries by noting the conflicting pressures at play:
“I don’t think I would agree that Trumpian conservative stands on immigration, race and homelessness are a more ‘natural’ or ‘default’ position. Communities with a good balance of people who seek out diversity, complexity, novelty, new and exciting experiences etc., and those who are disgusted by and averse to such things, avoid them, and tell others to do likewise, tend to thrive and prosper in human evolution.”
Finding the right balance, Stenner said, “is vital to both societal cohesion and human flourishing.” But, she warned, “we may have tipped the balance too far in favor of unconstrained diversity and complexity,” pushing the boundary beyond “many people’s capacity to tolerate it.”
At this juncture, she argued, we need to tinker with that balance and get it right for everyone. So there’s the paradox of our times: it is likely that rather less liberal democracy will ultimately make liberal democracy more secure.