The week of December 8, I listened to the mostly rancorous speeches by members during the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees’ hearings on impeaching Donald Trump. And I wondered for the umpteenth time how people looking at the same facts can form such different conclusions. I think it has less to do with particular facts than with wildly divergent worldviews. Ken Funk offers this definition of worldview: “A worldview is the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of Reality that ground and influence all one’s perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing.”
The title of Emma Green’s November 2, 2019 article for The Atlantic puts the matter starkly: “Americans Hate One Another. Impeachment Isn’t Helping.” [https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/11/impeachment-democrats-republicans-polarization/601264/.] Hate is a strong term and emotion. But these days I do feel a lot of hostility toward people who do not see the world and current events as I see them. It is plainly more than simple disagreement; I recognize emotional heat when I feel it. Compassion is my goal. But first I must figure out what to do with my hostility, my anger, maybe my hate.
Green writes: “According to a growing body of political-science research, Americans largely no longer feel a shared sense of national identity. . . . America’s great self-sorting [into respective political camps] is partly responsible for the two divergent narratives that have emerged on impeachment. Democrats can’t believe Republicans are willing to give President Donald Trump a pass for basically anything, including asking a foreign leader to investigate the family of one of his political opponents. Republicans, on the other hand, see the latest phase of the impeachment inquiry as a deceitful, partisan ploy from Democrats desperate to get Trump out of office. These are not just two ways of interpreting the same set of facts, with a gentleman’s agreement to disagree. They’re totally separate understandings of reality, based on the assumption of the other side’s bad faith.”
“According to research from two scholars at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, Americans’ assumptions about their political opponents’ bad faith is rooted in something deeper than partisan affiliation. People on opposite sides of the political spectrum actually have non-overlapping worldviews, which makes it hard for them to see anything legitimate in their political opponents’ views. . . . Americans with a more conservative, or “fixed,” orientation value obedience in their children and strength in their leaders. They often fear the world around them, and prize stability and tradition over experimentation and change. By comparison, Americans with a more liberal, or “fluid,” worldview strive to raise independent, curious children and see empathy and tolerance as the most noble qualities a leader can embody. They believe in questioning authority and abhor performative shows of toughness.
Listening to the hearings, I found myself trying to find something to question in Democrats’ speeches that I agreed with, something to agree with in Republicans’ positions I oppose. I felt physical relief when Rep. Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, said he admired how House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler had handled the hearings in that Committee. But that feeling of relief died as Rep. Sensenbrenner’s remarks continued.
I do not know how our country can come back together. But I am certain the answer does not lie, cannot lie, in more anger, more hostility, more hate in my own heart . . . or anyone else’s. The only thing I can think of to do is to keep trying more empathy, more decency, more adjustment in my own worldview to incorporate others’. I’ll see you in church, where you can help me in that effort.