Two new programs with New Yorker staff writer George Packer explore the association between American politics and identity. “Americans, aided by cable news and social media, have sorted themselves geographically and mentally into mutually hostile and incomprehensible worlds,” says Packer. This tribalism makes it very difficult for people to communicate or to truly listen to one another.
“None of those groups speaks to the whole country… they don’t speak to us as citizens, and they don’t find a way of being truly inclusive,” he says. “Where we cannot understand each other, we see each other as illegitimate in some ways. To even speak to someone from a different tribe is to give them a legitimacy they don’t deserve. And each tribe hopes and thinks the other will somehow disappear, either by being beaten in the polls, or by dying off, or being walled off. It’s as if they can’t acknowledge that the country is made up of more than their own tribe.”
There are many reasons for this increased tribalism, but the collapse of the institutions that have traditionally supported people economically is a contributing factor. In recent decades, fewer and fewer corporations offer job security or competitive wages, and the middle class is disappearing. “The simple answer I think,” says Packer, “is that a smaller pie, divided into less and less equal slices among people who look less and less alike, drives them towards cynical and hateful extremes.”
Watch Harry Kreisler’s interview with George Packer, Identity Politics and the Decline of American Institutions, as well as Packer’s UC Berkeley Graduate Lecture, American Identity in the Age of Trump.
Conversations with History host Harry Kreisler welcomes Professor Arlie Hochschild, 2017 Moses Lecturer at Berkeley for a discussion of her book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right which strives to bridge the gap of understanding between liberals and conservatives.
In 2011, Hochschild noticed a resurgence of the American right and decided to study it further in Louisiana. “I felt I was in a bubble here in Berkeley and wanted to learn more about the equal and opposite bubble.” Her goal was simple: to learn more about the conservative perspective through empathetic listening. “When listening to people who have strong opinions that differ from yours,” she explains, “it’s important to temporarily turn off your alarm system and be honest about it.”
But that’s not always easy. Hochschild advices that “when working with people to try to understand them, as sociologists do, it’s important to first create and feel comfortable within your own support system, to find your cocoon. Then, with that support, it won’t be so frightening to reach out.”
The influences that shaped her journey as a sociologist began as a child traveling extensively with her family. Because of her father’s work in the foreign service, Hochschild lived in foreign countries, not wearing the “right clothes” or speaking the language. In essence, she was the outsider… the “oddball.” Says Hochschild, “I think it’s why I’m a sociologist – I had to figure it out.” At social gatherings, she was “the little kid passing the peanuts, watching how people were interacting, people from different worlds and how they were relating to each other, the different signal systems.”
Learn more about Arlie Hochschild’s pioneering work on the sociology of emotions. Watch Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.
This is one of those rare political discussions where two people with different points of view actually listen and learn from each other as each describes their interpretation of why the majority of working-class voters sided with Donald Trump in the last election. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild and political scientist Steven Hayward discuss the causes for the ongoing cultural divide and offer glimmers of hope as they highlight examples of where people of opposite views have found common ground.
Watch: The 2016 Election: What Working Class Voters Are Thinking with Arlie Hochschild and Steven Hayward
Imagine a not-too-distant future where gasoline-powered engines disappear and we all travel in electric, driverless cars that don’t pollute the air. And, a future where the actual number of cars on the road decreases because we’ll all participate in a transportation sharing service rather than owning our own vehicles. That’s the vision presented by former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm in this energetic talk to the Goldman School of Public Policy as she describes its financial and environmental advantages but also outlines the new policy challenges. Among them, how to retrain professional drivers? What to do with empty parking lots? And how to replace the tax revenue generated by gas sales? Granholm’s eye-opening peek into the next decade will give you lots to think about next time you’re stuck in traffic.
Watch now: Are Robots Going to Hurt or Help? Let’s Talk Driverless Cars with Jennifer Granholm