Thomas Allen Crain, faculty member at Johns Hopkins University and member of the MHC Board writes about our new program, Practicing Democracy: Seeking Common Ground.
Much has been written recently about the partisan, acrimonious tone of public discourse in this country. Wander the halls of Congress, and you will hear life-time staffers say they have never encountered a more negative tone. It has driven at least one senator to retire. The partisanship and bickering on both sides of the aisle are mirrored in our seeming everyday inability to disagree politely with those who hold views different than our own on issues that matter to us–from gun control to climate change to immigration. Some argue that the way to counter this is to get people together, face to face, to ‘talk out’ their differences–to find common ground–and that this is the legacy of American democracy.
In her book, Hearing the Other Side, Diana Mutz questions whether it is possible to live up to the ideals of deliberative democracy. These ideals, she says, assume a model of political discourse that is open to everyone; that takes the form of carefully reasoned arguments supported by moral principles; and that is delivered in a tone of mutual respect. Her research, however, suggests that people do not willingly seek out those whose views differ from their own. People are most likely to be politically active if they are surrounded by other like-minded people who spur them on to ever more enthusiastic professions of their views.
Listen to Diana Mutz’s interview, posted by the Maryland Humanities Council. What does she have to say about how we move people to “hear the other side”? What are the implications of her research for how we practice democracy in this country? Should we be seeking to create a democracy that is more representative and less participative; that, rather than close-knit communities, seeks to foster looser, more flexible relationships for the sake of tolerance and decency?
To see the Diana Mutz interview on YouTube, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz-Ojwioj5M.