Have Americans lost the ability to talk politics? Recent studies show the country is more divided than ever before, and it’s only getting worse. In a lively talk at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, professor Robert Reich outlines what he sees as the main causes of the problem, and how we might be able to address them.
Political fights are a staple of American history. From the Civil Rights Movement to Vietnam, we haven’t always agreed. But, we used to agree on how to disagree, Reich says. He believes we have lost our respect, tolerance, and openness to the ideas of others. And making matters worse, we no longer trust government institutions to handle our disagreements.
Reich lays out three key factors he believes led to the current climate: geographic tribalism, stagnant incomes, and the media. Our opinions are most influenced by those around us, he says. And over time, we have separated ourselves into ‘red states’ and ‘blue states,’ becoming entrenched in political identities with little tolerance for outside opinions. Incomes have stopped growing with the economy, leading many to feel the system is rigged. Reich says politicians have latched on to that feeling to gain support. At the same time, a proliferation of media outlets has left each fighting for attention. One way to catch a viewer’s eye he says, is to stoke anger.
But, Reich says all is not lost. He lays out how each of us can do our part to bring civility back to political discourse. It all starts he says, with one conversation.