Our Culture of Contempt

I live and work in Washington. But I’m not a politics junkie. To me, politics is like the weather — it changes a lot, people drone on about it constantly, and “good” is mostly subjective. I like winter, you like summer; you’re a liberal, I’m a conservative. In the 2012 presidential election season, my wife and I had a bumper sticker custom-made for our Volvo that read “Vegans for Romney” just to see the reaction of other Washington drivers.

My passion is ideas, especially policy ideas. While politics is like the weather, ideas are like the climate. Climate has an impact on weather, but they’re different things. Similarly, ideas affect politics, but they aren’t the same. When done right, policy analysis, like climate science, favors nerds with Ph.D.s. And that’s me. For 20 years, I’ve been a professor of public policy and president of a think tank in Washington. (For a decade before that I made my living as a musician, but not the cool kind — I played in a symphony orchestra.)

But even a climatologist has to think about the weather when a hurricane comes ashore. And that’s what’s happening today. Political differences are ripping our country apart, swamping my big, fancy policy ideas. Political scientists have found that our nation is more polarized than it has been at any time since the Civil War. One in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or close friend because of the 2016 election. Millions of people organize their social lives and their news exposure along ideological lines to avoid people with opposing viewpoints. What’s our problem?

Read the full article as originally published in the New York Times opinion section here.

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