SUGGESTED READING

These articles and books from conservative and liberal social critics point to some of the underlying issues in our social and political culture that have led to this moment.

The Future of American Politics

Human beings didn't evolve into the world's dominant species because we are more autonomous. We didn't do it because we're more vicious in tooth and claw. We thrived as a species because we are better at cooperation.

We evolved complex social networks in our brains to make us better at bonding, teaching and collaborating. We don't cooperate only to get things we want individually. Often, we collaborate to build shared environments we can enjoy together. Often, we pick a challenge just so we can have the joy of collaborating. Relationships are ends to themselves.

Thus, the best future for American politics is not based on individual competition or group war. It's based on this narrative: We are an incredibly diverse society that got good at collaboration because we had to. The best future politics puts collaborative pluralism, weaving, at the center.

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The Righteous Mind by Johnathan Haidt

Book Review

Candidates who harp on the gap between rich and poor and appeal to the public's heartstrings to uplift the least among us-but don't grasp the tug of the flag, the fear of disorder, and the revulsion against sexually debasing behavior-really don't get why they lose. They don't get the American people, or just about any other people for that matter. They're WEIRD-as in Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic. Weirdoes are more like weirdoes in other countries than they are like their fellow countrymen. The author notes of his subjects in Philadelphia and two Brazilian cities that "the effect of social class was much larger than the effect of city. In other words, well-educated people in all three cities were more similar to each other than they were to their lower-class neighbors."

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Christopher Lasch and the Limits of Hope

Christopher Lasch's untimely death in 1994 deprived America of its most loving critic, a man who in his intellectual work followed John Winthrop's counsel, "We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others' necessities." Impossible to pigeonhole politically, Lasch seemed to be simultaneously to the left and to the right of most people.  Lasch questioned the widespread modern and liberal American assumptions that commonly identify democracy with progress, individualism, and secularism; he wrote of hope's connections to and reliance upon memory, virtue, limits, and humility, and, finally, of hope's source in the spiritual discipline of religion. He sought to reclaim hope from those who had lifted it from its theological context, and who had thereby separated it from any conception of limitation or humility. Lasch affirmed a conception of human equality that arose from a shared sense of human frailty. In his view, it is upon this shared sense that democracy ultimately rests.

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Book Review: Hate Inc.

In his biting new critique of partisan media, Hate Inc., author Matt Taibbi puts the progressive cable news channel in the same dishonorable category as Fox News. Despite their obvious political differences, he argues, both have made the news a consumer product designed "not just to make you mad, but keep you mad, whipped up in a state of devotional anger."

Even if the information reported on MSNBC or Fox is factually correct, Taibbi says their work doesn't amount to traditional journalism because their aim isn't to inform viewers but to addict them - and addict them, particularly, to a narrative of permanent conflict where one side is always right and the other always wrong.

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Social Media is the Problem

by YEVGENY SIMKIN in the Bulwark

Back in 2011 Chamath Palihapitiya left Facebook and said of his former company, "It literally is a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works."

I'm here to make the case that all modern social, political, and sociological ills can be traced to social media. It is single-handedly responsible for the tearing apart of our social fabric which Palihapitiya so presciently predicted. It's not "part of" the problem. It is the problem: An insidious malware slowly corrupting our society in ways that are extremely difficult to quantify, but the effects of which are evident all around us.

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MICHAEL LIND ON POPULISM, RACISM, AND RESTORING DEMOCRACY

In his new book, "The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite," the political scientist Michael Lind declares that the "greatest threat to Western democracy is the gradual decay of North America and Europe under well-educated, well-mannered, and well-funded centrist neoliberal politicians." He contends that the educated managerial caste paved the way for the rise of "demagogic populism" around the world, and blames "technocratic neoliberalism" for the destruction of the American middle class.

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The Demoralized Mind

Human culture has mutated into a sociopathic marketing machine dominated by economic priorities and psychological manipulation. Never before has a cultural system inculcated its followers to suppress so much of their humanity. Leading this hostile takeover of the collective psyche are increasingly sophisticated propaganda and misinformation industries that traffic the illusion of consumer happiness by wildly amplifying our expectations of the material world. Today's consumers are by far the most propagandized people in history.

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How America Lost Its Mind

Treating real life as fantasy and vice versa, and taking preposterous ideas seriously, is not unique to Americans. But we are the global crucible and epicenter. We invented the fantasy-industrial complex; almost nowhere outside poor or otherwise miserable countries are flamboyant supernatural beliefs so central to the identities of so many people. This is American exceptionalism in the 21st century. The country has always been a one-of-a-kind place. But our singularity is different now. We're still rich and free, still more influential and powerful than any other nation, practically a synonym for developed country. But our drift toward credulity, toward doing our own thing, toward denying facts and having an altogether uncertain grip on reality, has overwhelmed our other exceptional national traits and turned us into a less developed country.

People see our shocking Trump moment-this post-truth, "alternative facts" moment-as some inexplicable and crazy new American phenomenon. But what's happening is just the ultimate extrapolation and expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional for its entire history.

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The End of Identity Liberalism

The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. Hollywood's efforts to normalize homosexuality in our popular culture helped to normalize it in American families and public life.

But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part this is because of high school history curriculums, which anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country. (The achievements of women's rights movements, for instance, were real and important, but you cannot understand them if you do not first understand the founding fathers' achievement in establishing a system of government based on the guarantee of rights.)

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From Christianity Today Executive Editor, Dec. 2019

(This article and next one show the political divisions within the Christian community)

To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump's immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don't reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation's leader doesn't really matter in the end?

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Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump

An event on October 10, 2019 explains the odd-couple relationship of religious conservatives and Donald Trump. That evening, during a CNN townhall on LGBTQ issues, the now-former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke proclaimed that churches failing to toe the line on gay and transgender rights would lose their tax-exempt status in his administration. O'Rourke's comments represented a high-water mark of a culture that has jettisoned anything resembling a Christian moral ecology. Never mind that O'Rourke's candidacy is over. It was an Overton Window-shifting moment.

O'Rourke's comments reminded religious conservatives why so many of them voted for Trump in 2016, even if doing so felt hypocritical and seemed like a betrayal of their principles - and why they will likely do so again in 2020, despite their realism about his character. O'Rourke's promise to remove tax exemptions only reinforced the embattled mentality of most religious conservatives, which mobilizes them as voters. The problem was not only with O'Rourke's tax policy, however. It's also that the rhetoric of progressives around sexual orientation and gender identity logically leads to the conclusion that O'Rourke simply dared to state honestly: It is illogical to say that Christianity is "harmful" to gay and transgender persons and then not to want it somehow punished. For years, religious conservatives predicted that the sexual revolution would eventually affect government policy and directly threaten churches. They can now point to O'Rourke and other examples as evidence of a massive cultural shift that has realized their predictions. Even the most convinced progressive should sympathize with religious conservatives who are concerned about federal law possibly turning against them.

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America's Crisis of Contempt

Arthur Brooks' speech at the National Prayer Breakfast February 6, 2020

As you have heard, I am not a priest or minister. I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other.

I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation - and many other nations - today. This is the crisis of contempt - the polarization that is tearing our society apart. But if I do my job in the next few minutes, I promise I won't depress you. On the contrary, I will show you why I believe that within this crisis resides the best opportunity we have ever had, as people of faith, to lift our nations up and bring them together.

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