Transcript for Outrage Bonus – America on the Knife’s Edge

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[00:00:00] – (): David: Welcome to Outrage Overload, a science podcast about outrage and lowering the temperature. This is a bonus documentary style episode about electoral politics.

[00:01:00] – (): As we gear up for the upcoming big presidential election, I can’t help but wonder, why are these elections always so close? And what happens when the winner wins by a razor thin margin? It feels like each election is more important than the last. But what does it really take for our democracy to work? To find out, we’re diving into the world of elections, drawing lessons from a silly movie and real life insights from history, political science, and contemporary discourse.

**** – (): Join me on this adventure as we navigate the wild world of electoral politics, and maybe even find yourself facing more questions than answers, but coming away with a clearer picture of it all nonetheless.

**** – (): Movie Trailer: Don’t forget today. What’s today? Election day, dummy. Well, I’m not even registered. I registered for you in the mail.

**** – (): Well, that’s great. I could get jury duty now.

[00:02:00] – (): David: That’s from the 2008 movie Swing Vote. A comedy with Kevin Costner, who plays Bud, who’s uh, kind of a loser, who’s not particularly interested in politics, but through a wild set of circumstances, ends up playing a big role in the presidential election.

**** – (): Movie Trailer: A single irregular ballot is holding up a final decision for the American presidency.

**** – (): One American citizen will effectively choose the next president of the United States.

**** – (): David: So then the media and the campaigns and of course the presidential candidates themselves descend on this small town in New Mexico and try to woo the vote of a single person,

**** – (): Movie Trailer: Bud. All we have to do is win over one American mind.

**** – (): I want to know what he

**** – (): reads, what television shows he watches. Welcome to the party, Bud. People really like you, Bud.

**** – (): David: They feel like you’re one of them. So it’s a comedy and Bud. Bud. You know, it’s pretty farcical. Like it’s pretty wild and it kind of reminds me of idiocracy in that regard that it’s crazy enough.

[00:03:00] – (): Like, oh man, that’s just insanely silly. But at the same time, there’s some part of you going, I could maybe see this happening. Okay. So why am I telling you all this? Well, I’m telling you this because I see bud is like a metaphor for these undecided voters. In our swing states, you know, he’s got a lot of the attributes that we see Folks ascribe to these independent voters.

**** – (): He’s apolitical and disengaged, you know It doesn’t really show much interest in politics. He’s pretty much undecided and unsure It’s sort of like he’s easy. He kind of struggles to understand things and he’s kind of easily swayed At the end of the day, he’s also a metaphor for this electoral situation.

**** – (): We’re in where these few states decide to vote Here’s what SNL had to say about these undecided voters a few years ago.

**** – (): SNL: It seems that more than 96 percent of voters have already made up their minds about this election. Well, I guess some of us are just a little bit harder to please. We’re not impressed by political spin or 30 second sound bites.

[00:04:00] – (): Before you get our vote, you’re gonna have to answer some questions. Questions like

**** – (): When is the election? How soon do we have to decide?

**** – (): What are the

**** – (): names of the two people running? And be specific. Who

**** – (): is the president right now? Is he or she running? Because if so, experience is maybe something we should consider.

**** – (): David: Anyway, recent real presidential elections these days are decided by an incredibly small fraction of voters in a few key states. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania,

**** – (): News Clip: Michigan, Wisconsin, uh, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nevada.

**** – (): David: Anyone remember the number of votes that clinched victory for President Biden in Georgia in 2020?

**** – (): Donald Trump: So look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find, uh, 11, 780. Votes, which is one more that we have.

[00:05:00] – (): David: Then there was the contentious 2000 election that was the one about Florida and hanging chads, and it ultimately came down to the Supreme Court determining the result,

**** – (): News Clip: and he and I grabbed the decision and we started trying to read through it.

**** – (): It does appear as I look through here to be a five four opinion, and what the Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court ultimately said was that Florida was not treating the recount questions the same in. Some counties a dimple, Chad counted as a vote. In some counties it did not, but the Supreme Court said there wasn’t enough time to start the recount over.

**** – (): There’s no doubt here, Tom, there’s just no way that the court thinks a recount is possible. I called one of the lawyers for Al Gore’s team and I said, it’s over, isn’t it? Gore conceded. The next day, the final official margin, 537 votes.

**** – (): David: Here’s political scientist Kevin Smith.

[00:06:00] – (): Kevin Smith: If you take a look at a presidential election, because of the kind of goofy way that we elect a president, um, you know, the elections aren’t going to be close in California.

**** – (): They’re probably not going to be close in Texas, but you’re a hundred percent right in the sense that the outcome for the most powerful office On planet Earth is boiling down to, you know, a handful of votes in a handful of states.

**** – (): David: In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for elections to swing by large margins, like 20 percent or more, but not so much these days.

**** – (): Here’s social psychologist Eli Finkel.

**** – (): Eli Finkel: Wasn’t at all weird to have 20, 25 percent victories, but you’re not seeing that anymore. Right. And basically what you’re seeing over the last hundred years and in, um, the presidential elections is that there used to be large margins. There also used to be high variance.

[00:07:00] – (): These sorts of shifts were not that rare, right? Where you’d get a pretty robust victory for one side followed by for the other side in 64, we had a 20 some point win for the Democrats. And then two election cycles later, 20. This is Nixon, 20 some points for the Republican. And so now what we have is these elections are hanging on a knife’s edge.

**** – (): Well, there’s good political science on that. So what does it mean if, if each election is, you know, just a little bit more effort from your side, a little bit more getting out the vote, a little bit more persuading people in the middle, like fractional might tip power. In the white house might tip power in the senate or in the house of representatives Well, there’s a lot of good political science on this stuff in the last 5 10 years And what it says is things get crazy.

**** – (): David: This is where if I had a license for popular music I’d play the beginning of pat benatar’s love is a battlefield Look it up With the electoral battleground shrinking down to just a few key states The stakes are sky high for both sides. It’s not just about winning an election anymore. It’s about wanting to keep their ideology and policies dominating the political scene indefinitely.

[00:08:00] – (): Progressive Advocate: I want everyone to vote for progressives in every election. Uh, And progressives can’t do anything if they’re not in office.

**** – (): David: But in a democracy where both sides cast their votes and with swing voters like Bud, the pendulum swings back and forth, and neither side is able to totally wipe out the opposition.

**** – (): Kevin Smith: I also think that there’s a longstanding problem with the electorate in the sense of, I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding amongst many people. I see this in my students of how democracy works. You know, if Pick your presidential favorite. If my guy gets in, um, he’ll be able to do X, Y, and Z.

[00:09:00] – (): Well, actually that’s probably not true. You know, the president cannot make law. And I mean, you see, you know, candidates. For congress running on the basis of if you vote for me, I mean, they’re making explicit promises I’m not going to compromise i’m going to go up there and i’m going to Fight for you and stick it to those so and sos on the on the other side of the aisle And they’re being cheered on at least by their their their partisan base on both sides and I think that is Feeding in that sets up a an unfortunate potentially dangerous negative feedback loop Because, I mean, it sets up a set of expectations that are virtually guaranteed not to be met.

**** – (): David: And when they can’t get what they want, people get mad and frustrated. And it’s like a never ending loop. That makes them want this ideological domination even more. But then when they lose, it makes them even madder, and they get madder at the other side. So they want it more, but it’s still not happening.

**** – (): So it just keeps spiraling into intense anger, hatred, and frustration. And so this super competitive battleground is no joke.

[00:10:00] – (): Movie Trailer: I don’t really feel comfortable with this. I read about you in the paper. They said you’d do anything to win. Even if it meant selling your mother’s soul.

**** – (): David: If you met my mother, you’d understand.

**** – (): Folks on each side pull out all the stops to clinch that victory. They’re out there rallying their loyal supporters. They’re trying to charm those swing voters like Bud. They dive into their bag of tricks, and they’re relentless about it. If you accidentally found yourself subscribed to a candidate’s text messages or email list, you get a taste of it firsthand.

**** – (): Basically, they try to scare the heck out of people.

**** – (): Campaign Ads: There is an inferno raging in Washington.

**** – (): Swamp Captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people.

**** – (): I absolutely refuse to bow down to Sharia law.

**** – (): I support the second amendment.

**** – (): Some people see a dumpster fire and do nothing but watch the spectacle.

**** – (): David: But partisans quickly realized that winning is no walk in the park. Every step of the way, they’re facing off against obstacles and enemies all around. No matter how hard they try, they’re up against resistance from the other side, as well as systemic

**** – (): Kevin Smith: barriers.

[00:11:00] – (): The average American voter likes democracy in the abstract, but doesn’t like it in practice. By far, their preference is that government would, you know, do what they prefer to do. to be done, you know, with no muss, no fuss, no public conflict. And that is a completely unrealistic notion of how a representative democracy works.

**** – (): I mean, if you ask, if you do a, if you just go out and you talk to people, I mean, they basically, you know, throw up their hands and say, well, why can’t they just get together? Why can’t they just get things? Why can’t they just get things done? And it’s okay. Well, what do you want them to get done? Well, I want them to do x.

[00:12:00] – (): Well, you know, there’s a big chunk of the electorate, uh, who also have representative in Congress, and they don’t want X to be done at all. In fact, they’re dead set against it. Now what? You know, you got to kind of have a Donnybrook and, and, and fight your way to a, to a middle ground. And I don’t think the American electorate is, is too thrilled with that, with that notion of governance.

**** – (): And I don’t think they ever have been.

**** – (): David: And then there’s something we talk about a lot on this podcast, the state of our affective political polarization. That is voters emotional hostility towards voters on the other side. There are many players who benefit from keeping us outraged and afraid, including the media, political campaigns, and social media platforms.

**** – (): They want us to be terrified of the other side.

**** – (): Tucker Carlson: These people seek absolute sameness, total uniformity. You’re happy with your corner coffee shop. They want to make you drink Starbucks every day from now until forever. No matter how it tastes.

**** – (): James Carville: Mike Johnson and what he believes is one of the greatest threats we have today to the United States.

**** – (): This is a bigger threat than Al Qaeda.

[00:13:00] – (): David: Functioning democracy needs compromise and cooperation. But with everyone digging into their own corners, any kind of cooperation becomes almost impossible. Everyone gets frustrated, even the winners, because they never get everything they want. So, I know what you’re asking.

**** – (): Why don’t we just fix the electoral college? Well, there are some big hurdles to that. First, it’s built into the Constitution, and with our state of polarization, it’s basically impossible to do anything that requires that kind of majority to change.

**** – (): News Clip: Throughout our nation’s history, over 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to modify or abolish the Electoral College.

**** – (): That’s more proposals than on any other subject. None have resulted in a constitutional amendment. Until new laws are passed, presidential elections will hinge on the battleground states that could switch between red and blue in any given year. Even though in reality, there’s no truly red or blue state.

[00:14:00] – (): Kevin Smith: You’ve got to be really careful about getting rid of institutions and processes, institutions and processes that have worked reasonably well for a long time. I mean, in the context of the republic for a couple of centuries, you know, they They may have flaws, they may produce some outcomes that some people don’t like, but you better have a really good sense of what would be a better replacement for them.

**** – (): And everything has trade offs and, you know, the electoral college is sort of like the poster child for this, right? But there are trade offs. Even there and, and, and, you know, moving towards like a popular vote. You know, in that case there’s a whole bunch of states that effectively disappear from presidential, uh, interest and attention.

**** – (): I mean, I wouldn’t be paying much attention to Nebraska if I was, you know, a presidential campaign, uh, getting elected on a, on, on a popular vote.

[00:15:00] – (): David: In short, changing the way we pick a president? Forget about it, at least for now. So when partisans can’t seem to get the upper hand on their opponents, they start eyeing some pretty sketchy options.

**** – (): They’re tempted by the idea of strongman leaders, populism, and even breaking the rules of democracy to get what they want. The idea of a strong leader with a no nonsense attitude is appealing to some right now, especially if they promise quick fixes and talk a big game against perceived threats to things like cultural norms,

**** – (): You may be listening to this and thinking I’m referring to a particular candidate or a particular party. I’m not. It’s fair to say, right now, the elites in the Republican Party, meaning those in power, have shown greater willingness to embrace anti democratic ideas. But partisans on both sides show support for breaking democratic norms and there is anti democratic and populist fervor among Democrats as well as Republican voters, as shown in the data.

[00:16:00] – (): Folks can start looking for drastic measures. They’re tempted by leaders who promise to take charge and cut through the red tape, even if it means ignoring the usual rules of the game, like the Constitution, the courts, or democratic norms. Here’s political scientist Andreas Schedler.

**** – (): Andreas Schedler: So not just the idea that the others are kind of self interested and amoral actors who put party interests above all.

**** – (): That’s kind of standard, huh? But the idea that they do this and they would be even willing to wreck democracy for their own interest. That they would be willing to do anything, and that goes even into, like, taboo spheres like violence. So we have today kind of mutual fears of political violence that the other side might be willing to kind of, to breach that fundamental rule of democracy, the renunciation of violence.

[00:17:00] – (): Uh, In the pursuit of partisan interests, and that’s really, that’s really something dramatic, I think. If

**** – (): Eli Finkel: everything hangs on this next election, the future of the republic, the ability ever to have a democracy again before they, you know, change all the voting rules, like if these are the stakes, I don’t know what to say.

**** – (): I would support some violence. I would support some political chicanery. If those are the stakes, what’s wrong with, you know, suppressing some votes on the other side? Really? Like, those are the stakes that we’re going to get all hot and bothered about some principle. Um, and a little violence here and there.

**** – (): David: When democracy’s basic rules are tossed aside for the sake of strongman tactics and loudmouth leaders, We’re staring right at the possibility of violence, and our democratic system falling apart. We want to be careful not to overstate it, but look, we’ve seen it. The 2020 election didn’t go the way some people wanted.

[00:18:00] – (): They thought they were cheated. People can attempt to rewrite history, but on January 6th, many were prepared to take extra legal action to achieve their end.

**** – (): J6 Participant: If they don’t go to the Capitol, like I said earlier, if they don’t go to the Capitol and take over and walk in there and just relieve everybody of command, what’s going to be the difference in them coming out here?

**** – (): What’s going to change? Why did we come out here then?

**** – (): Ben Hamilton: But my point was originally, legally, I don’t think this crowd of people has the legal right, or even the moral right, to relieve the Congress. Of their position.

**** – (): J6 Participant: 1776. Same way without a gun being fired. They did it the same way. What are you talking about?

**** – (): The, the 1776, but 17 relieved them, right?

**** – (): Ben Hamilton: Well, that, that was, you know, that was one of the longest wars in American history. Lots of people died in the American Revolution.

**** – (): J6 Participant: In the end. They went to the Capitol and they relieved the people that were there, didn’t they? Uh,

**** – (): Ben Hamilton: I mean, but there were a lot of gunfire, guns fired, tons

**** – (): J6 Participant: before they went there for

**** – (): Ben Hamilton: years on end.

**** – (): J6 Participant: Well, it was, it was time to make a stand. Right.

[00:19:00] – (): David: And everyone saw, live on TV, serious attacks of violence, as well as threats of violence, including calling for the vice president to be hanged.

**** – (): Here’s political scientist Barbara F. Walter.

[00:20:00] – (): Barbara F. Walter: Between December of 2020 and early 2021. The United States was officially classified as an inocracy. Inocracy is just a fancy term for partial democracy. It’s a government that’s neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic. But it’s something in between.

**** – (): David: But a violent coup is not the only way for an undemocratic takeover.

**** – (): Here’s Polish American journalist and historian Anne Applebaum talking about the situation with Viktor Orban in Hungary.

**** – (): Anne Applebaum: So what’s important about Orban is that he was democratically elected. Hungary was a democracy. It’s still a member of NATO. It’s still a member of the European Union. Uh, Orban had popular support.

**** – (): He won a big election victory, actually. But what, what matters is what he did after he won. And he then began to systematically piece by piece, dismantle the institutions of democracy. And he did so in his case, he did so it first without breaking the law. He changed the constitution because he had a constitutional majority.

[00:21:00] – (): He altered the judges. Um, he began doing some things behind the scenes. So for example, he, he played around with the press, people who advertised in the opposition press suddenly had trouble getting government contracts. Um, and because Hungary is a small country, he also began to dominate the economy, making sure that his businessmen, his oligarchs stayed ahead.

**** – (): And, and by doing so over a number of years, he made himself impossible to remove from power. And that is now the model of. Democratic takeover. Um, you know, when you want to destroy a democracy nowadays, you don’t have a coup d’etat. You don’t need to send the tanks into the presidential palace and shoot up the ceiling.

**** – (): Uh, what you do is you take it apart piece by piece and others have copied him. The polls, uh, the previous polish government attempted to copy him. They didn’t quite succeed and they lost an election in october. Uh, the israeli government has tried to copy him and that was actually the big story in israel last summer before the, you know, yeah.

[00:22:00] – (): Before the Gaza war began. Um, it’s not that different from what Hugo Chavez did in Venezuela. This isn’t necessarily a right wing process. It can also be a left wing process, but it’s watch watch what he has. Not not what he says. I mean, what he says about LGBT rights or about migration is horrific, but it’s not so much that those are the games that he plays to keep your eye away from the ball.

**** – (): And what matters is what he does to the judges, what he does to the civil service, what he does to the media.

**** – (): David: I want to point out here that Hungary is quite a bit smaller country than the U. S. And it might be a little bit more challenging for a wannabe autocrat in the U. S. to achieve some of those same things.

**** – (): At the same time, we have to be careful not to overestimate the idea that we are exceptional and therefore immune to these kind of attacks. Here’s Dr. Thomas Zaitsoff.

**** – (): Thomas Zeitzoff: The thing that concerns myself and, you know, folks who maybe have been in places where democracy is not quite as solidified, at least as, you know, we tend to think here in the U.

[00:23:00] – (): S., is that a lot of the threats and investigations and other things are, you know, Have been done in other countries and you talk to people who’ve lived through those it’s not a fun place to be and it was kind of a little bit of an irony was like what I was talking with some of my political scientist friends and remember we were you know I was you know having dinner with a bunch of them and some of them were like people who specialize in American politics and they said the institutions will hold right the institutions will hold the institutions are there And folks like myself and others who study comparative politics or places outside, we’re like, I don’t know, we’ve seen, I’ve seen this movie before, and the institutions hold until they don’t.

**** – (): And so I think that’s probably like the most, you know, concerning sort of viewpoint about this sort of recent turn in rhetoric is it’s, it’s, you know, there’s some of it that’s, you know, ridiculous. But then some of it, that’s serious, right? You know, more that we find out about all the other things that were done, even if they were done in like a slapdash way.

[00:24:00] – (): It was, you know, Trump was trying to hold on to office through irregular means. Political scientists call that an auto gulpe or a self coup. And, you know, people, the media doesn’t want to, you know, not maybe doesn’t want to, but is hesitant to call it that. But, you know, and there’s some political scientists say you have to have the military for it to be considered a coup, but that’s, you know, There was a legitimate debate in academic circles and a lot of people like the Klein Center at the University of Illinois and other folks who I would say are experts on coup, like there’s a big debate about whether or not you, you know, consider what happened was like a self coup.

**** – (): And that’s, I think that’s a problem, right? And so I think, you know, there’s both the over coverage of some of the more flamboyant statements, but then there’s also a missing, you know, some of the, the really big concerning things.

**** – (): David: We’re at a crossroads. We’ve got to decide whether to stick with democratic principles and accept losing sometimes or give in to the appeal of strongman tactics and undemocratic means to get our way.

[00:25:00] – (): Do we go down the path of democracy with all its messiness of competing, compromising, and the peaceful transfer of power where our side is unlikely to dominate? Or, will we get swept up in all the temptations of populism and authoritarianism because we’re dead set on thinking our ideas are the only ones that deserve a place in society?

**** – (): Kevin Smith: Some of my students in my Intro to American class are shocked when I say the United States government was Design specifically not to work. It only works under a set of very particular circumstances, and those circumstances are where you can stitch together the different arenas of responsibility and authority that the divided power system sets up that you can stitch them together and get them to agree.

**** – (): And the threshold for doing that is at a minimum, you’ve got to have a fairly broad area of compromise to make that happen. You know, one side or the other is going to have a hard time getting that done, even if they have, you know, reasonable majorities in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

[00:26:00] – (): It’s gonna be hard. I mean, it’s cliche, but it’s true. There’s only one way to pass a bill, and there’s a thousand ways to kill it.

**** – (): David: It’s up to us to decide. Do we embrace the uncertainty of democracy, understanding that it’s what makes our system resilient and open to everyone? So check it out. We’ve got a choice ahead of us.

**** – (): There’s the sweet victory of winning elections. Fingers crossed it’s our side, right? But then there’s the scary option, heading down a dark road where democracy takes a back seat. And here’s the thing, the more we’re all about winning at any cost, the harder it is when elections inevitably swing the other way.

**** – (): And that disappointment? It just adds fuel to the fire, increasing the likelihood of the undemocratic takeover that we’re so concerned about. In the Swing Vote movie, the candidates and their campaigns reflect this desire to win at all costs.

**** – (): Movie Trailer: You used to stand for something, both of you. But

**** – (): what are we about?

[00:27:00] – (): Winning. Because if we don’t win, you can’t do what you set out to do.

**** – (): David: And because it’s Hollywood, they learn their lesson and start to treat each other better. The last scene is a presidential debate, where Bud gets to ask the questions. And of course, Bud gives a moving speech, and the audience, representing the electorate, has their Kumbaya moment.

**** – (): And spoiler alert, we never get to know who Bud votes for.

**** – (): Movie Trailer: I’m ashamed in front of my daughter

**** – (): and my country. I’ve never served or sacrificed. The only heavy lifting I have ever been asked is simple stuff like, you know, Um, pay attention, Bo. If America has a, well if America has a true enemy tonight, I guess it’s me. So, is

**** – (): David: there another

**** – (): way?

[00:28:00] – (): Eli Finkel talks about enlightened disagreement. Is that an answer?

**** – (): And what does that look like? Can we ditch the idea of needing to crush the other side and instead get good at disagreeing without hating each other? Can we come to respect each other’s views and find some common ground on the democratic process without leaving our principles behind? But that’s got to go both ways.

**** – (): We can’t have one side disarming while the other side is loading up on metaphorical nukes.

**** – (): Andreas Schedler: We often side cut off. absolute, we cite democratic norms as if they were absolute, kind of, you know, respect free and fair elections, renounce violence, obey court rulings, etc. But all these norms only hold if you really think that the other side respects them as well.

[00:29:00] – (): We respect elections as long as we think they are not rigged. We respect Supreme Court rulings, as long as we think that the Supreme Court is not just a bunch of partisan hacks, etc. So really, the whole edifice of democracy and kind of the set of norms that holds it together is based on this expectation of mutuality.

**** – (): We play fair, you play fair, and we get along. And as when this unravels. It’s really difficult to see the balance.

**** – (): David: It’s a prisoner’s dilemma of sorts. How would we get there? And how do we get past this prisoner’s dilemma? And how can we champion compromise and cooperation without feeling like we’re giving up our principles?

**** – (): There’s a lot of consensus among the experts that the path we’re on doesn’t end well.

[00:30:00] – (): Andreas Schedler: I’m from Austria. In interwar Austria, we had such a spiral of polarization and, and kind of Those people who saw each other as enemies sat together in prison and then learned well. Probably we should have treated each other differently, but of course we don’t want this.

**** – (): We don’t want to to to end democracy in dictatorship or civil war and then Start adjusting our behavior.

**** – (): David: There’s a lot less agreement on what the off ramps are. I spoke with Zachary Elwood about these questions Zach is a friend of the show who works on reducing toxic polarization with his own writing in books And also works as a writer for the organization starts with us

**** – (): Zachary Elwood: Yeah, we will defeat them forever, kind of, that way, yeah, I see that, I see that a lot, like, basically saying, like, we just need to wait for these, you know, older conservatives to die, basically, and I was like, you hear that a lot, I’m like, you, you, you don’t realize that, like, you know, there’s writhing racial minority support for Trump, you don’t realize that the, you know, it’s like, what do you, you, you really overestimate your idea of, like, defeating the other side, right, like, people do that on, on both sides, and it’s, Yeah, that’s that’s that’s a big part of the problem.

[00:31:00] – (): And the more people speak in those ways, the more it riles up the other side, et cetera, et cetera. You know, I wrote a piece about reading, uh, Jeffrey Blaney’s, The Causes of War. It’s a classic book about, yeah, the causes of war, obviously. But he talked about how one of the factors is people. Wars often happened because people overstated or had an exaggerated sense of their ability to win a war, right?

**** – (): So that, that made them act in more warlike ways. And so, and I think that’s a fundamental human tendency too, to overestimate your chances of, of winning something, right? We, we have a distorted view of the, of the, of the landscape of the battlefield of, of conflict, and we overestimate like, you know, our, our chances of winning in the same way that we often overestimate our chances of success at things.

[00:32:00] – (): I mean, I think a lot of that is related to our distorted perceptions of each other, because. You know, when we have, when we can understand, you know, the, the more rational elements of why, you know, the other side believes what they do, then it, it’s only natural that we act in ways that amplify the tensions, amplify the temperature, you know, for example, immigration, I mean, Bernie Sanders was, you know, against, uh, he, he was for strict immigration controls most of his career.

**** – (): He, uh, said, you know, lacks border policies, was a Koch brothers policy because, you know, he saw loose immigration, uh, policies as helping big businesses and hurting American workers. And that’s just to say, No matter what you think on that, I think liberals would be more generous to Bernie Sanders views on that than they would if a Republican expressed the same view.

[00:33:00] – (): So this is just to say the more that we can embrace the more rational and you know, understandable views. On the other side, uh, the more we’ll bring down the temperature, and I think that’s a big part of it is to, is to try to see, uh, those, those rational views as much as we can, you know, and for, for abortion, for example, Caitlin Flanagan wrote a really good article, I think it was for the Atlantic, where she described, you know, the best thing activists on either side can do, is to actually, you know, deal with the better arguments of the other side and, and think about those, those things and, and, uh, not portray them as in the worst possible ways.

**** – (): So yeah, the, the, the, the talk of vanquishing and defeating the other side, I think those, those things come about when you really view the other side’s fundamental views as really dangerous, and I think a big part of that is, is having distorted views. That’s not to say we, you know, we can’t have understandable concerns about the dangers of harms posed by the other side, but it’s also true that we, You know, our animosity, the toxic divides are what helped create some of those concerns in, you know, they helped generate some of those concerns.

[00:34:00] – (): So by dealing with the underlying root causes, as I see it, which is the over, over pessimistic and distorted framings of the other side’s kind of core, uh, political beliefs, I think we bring down the temperature. And that also helps us see how. Understand that we’re not going to defeat a lot of these, uh, you know, we’re not going to defeat the other side easily because it does come down to these core understandable, uh, differences in opinion on some core beliefs.

**** – (): And I think there’s a few things in that area too, because it’s like, you know, a, I don’t even think you necessarily need to have a compromise mindset to work on some of these things because you could work hard, you know, As much as they’re able, you know, work very hard for things while speaking and behaving in less polarizing ways.

[00:35:00] – (): And then B, yeah, we do, you do need compromise. And I think there is often, there’s, there’s more room for compromise and people understand, right? Like one thing that comes to mind is the, uh, you know, the, the bill in, in Florida, which recently, uh, you know, the one that, that, that liberal people call it, don’t say gay bill.

**** – (): Like they had a ruling that it only applied in certain contexts. And both sides of that debate viewed it as a win, right, which was struck people as surprising, but I think it goes to show that sometimes the things we’re arguing over are not as all encompassing as we think they are, you know, for example, you know, you could probably find a lot more, uh, uh, common ground on, on immigration, you know, um, It’s been a lot of people believe and a lot of people overstate what they think their adversaries actually want, right?

[00:36:00] – (): The way these things tend to build up is these extremely sky is falling Catastrophizing views and again, that’s not to say that there can’t be valid concerns, right? But you know people who are interested in Building a less toxic future a more healthy future for america If you’re willing if you want to do that, you need to be willing to examine You Are my fears potentially overstated, right?

**** – (): Like, and, and in my, if I’m worried about those things, it would behoove me to not overstate my fears because overstating fears can be a factor in amplifying tensions, right? So it’s just to say, it’s not to say we can’t be concerned about things, but I think it’s important to speak in careful ways that don’t accidentally, you know, amplify tensions, right?

**** – (): That’s what I see because I see a lot of people speak in very overly certain ways about like what specifically Trump will do, what he’ll accomplish, you know, what the worst case framings are on either side. And a lot of those are just kind of like, Ultra certain statements and not really like expressed as like a concern, right?

[00:37:00] – (): And it’s like, here’s what will happen. Here’s what the worst things are that will happen. Uh, or here’s what will happen if, if Trump or Biden is elected. So I think, uh, people interested in, in lowering divides. As Thomas Zeitzoff said, he wrote, you know, he’s written about the dangers of speaking in two overly certain, extremely pessimistic ways, because there can be a self fulfilling prophecy to that, right?

**** – (): It’s like, there’s a danger, there’s some risks, and I think we need to be aware of those too. And people will say, yeah, there’s also a risk of not worrying enough. Right. But yeah, that’s, that’s true too. You need to think about what your worst case fears are, but also be aware of how there can be risks to speaking and overly pessimistic in certain ways too.

**** – (): Um, in, in how they amplify. Conflict and animosity and such. Uh, but yeah, that none of these, none of these things are easy, obviously, but that’s how I view it as like threading the needle of like trying to work against things you’re concerned about while trying to also lessen polarization speak and less.

[00:38:00] – (): Polarizing ways, which is obviously difficult for people who care about these things. It is worth trying to see what your adversaries are seeing and what they’re actually concerned about. Even if you think that those concerns are hugely overstated or even silly, it’s like a lot of people do believe those things.

**** – (): I think you have to grapple with that fact, you know, and even if you think, you know, they’re overstated, even if you think. People are using those fears for, you know, uh, overstating those fears and manipulating those stories. It’s like people do really believe those things. And I think you have to grapple with that and also try to see the, some of the rational underpinnings.

**** – (): And then, you know, you can see, I’ve written pieces and it’s in my books too, about the distorted polarized views about Trump, our perceptions about Trump, for example, and seeing how, you know, you, you can, you can get into the mind frame of seeing. How there was a, there was a lot of irresponsible coverage of the Trump Russia things and how that feeds into a narrative of Trump and Republicans always being attacked unfairly, right?

[00:39:00] – (): So, you know, it’s like you can, people on both sides, you can view the other side as worse or more contributing to the problem, but I think that, I think, I think a lot of people use their views of the other side, their fears and animosity toward the other side as a way to avoid working on the problem where it’s like, To me, one can see the other side as worse and more contributing to the divide, the toxicity of the divides, while feeling it’s very important to work on reducing those divides because conflict is, is very complex and, and, you know, it, that should tell us that we should take some humility about the nature of the divides and, and, uh, Really not, not let our animosity towards the other side, getting in the way of us working on the problem.

[00:40:00] – (): But I think a lot of people just let their animosity and fear make them say, throw up their hands and say, well, it’s their fault. Like I’m not going to work on it. Whereas I see it as, you know, this is a very important problem. Asymmetrical in a conflict, you know, it’s hard, they can be hard to compare, you know, for example, there’s educational polarization.

**** – (): There’s the fact that liberals, uh, really, uh, control a lot of the, the, the, the institutions in society, you know, academia, um, uh, mainstream media, entertainment media. So just to say that the, the conflicts can be quite complex and We can be prone to seeing the conflict how we want to see it and, and, and using that as an excuse to not help.

[00:41:00] – (): Whereas I think we should embrace some humility and ask, what can we do on our side to solve these things, right? Which no matter who we, we think it works in these things, right? I think, I think political leaders, pundits, political activists can speak in these ways that acknowledge Some of the more rational and understandable objections and concerns on the other side while saying, and yet, here’s what I believe, you know, here, here are the things, here’s where we differ.

**** – (): Here’s why I think what you’re doing is wrong, right? But I think what happens is so few people are willing to even speak to those more rational objections that it just becomes a game of like, well, I’m going to completely ignore all your concerns and never speak about them because that’s perceived as weak.

**** – (): But I think we need to embrace. Uh, in our daily lives as everyday citizens to people who have a lot more influence. I think we need to embrace seeing, uh, what the other side sees and speaking to their concerns more. But yeah, that’s, that’s hard for, you know, all sorts of reasons. Everybody listening to your program, anybody out there is going to have their political views, right?

[00:42:00] – (): Like, we have our political views of who’s doing harm, who’s doing the most harm, but if we can try to engage with our adversaries as much as possible in depolarizing ways, I mean, I think that’s, to me, that is like, One of the main ways we can all help with this problem, and I think it mainly, you know, that kind of approach mainly helps with the more politically influential, right, like the political leaders, the, you know, the pundits, the political activists, but I do think trying to get them to see the value of, you know, working towards their, their political goals in depolarizing, de escalating ways, which, you know, You know, in practical terms means trying to understand what what’s bothering your political opponents and setting them at ease, right?

**** – (): But that’s the the last thing that most of us feel like doing like we actually feel like actually taking our opponents concerns Seriously, you know because we view their concerns as so goofy or or even dangerous We we don’t have an incentive to speak to their concerns But I do think part of the path out of this is Getting more political leaders and activists and pundits to see the value and speaking in those more persuasive ways and taking their opponent’s concerns seriously as much as they’re able to.

[00:43:00] – (): I think that’s a practical thing that all of us could do even in our daily lives as everyday citizens. But, uh, that’s kind of the approach I would take because, you know, clearly we’re not going to like rid ourselves of major, uh, divides and, and, and major divergent narratives, right? We’re not going to do that.

**** – (): Uh, maybe ever, but we’re definitely not going to do it overnight. But yeah, that that’s kind of like would be my instinct for how to wrap it up.

**** – (): David: Our exploration of the desire to crush the other side and remove opposing ideas from society has revealed the dangers of political polarization and the futility of seeking to silence dissenting voices. As we navigate the complexities of a deeply divided society, It’s imperative that we resist the urge to view political opponents as irredeemable adversaries and instead strive for dialogue, understanding, and compromise.

[00:44:00] – (): So where do we go from here? How do we move forward in a landscape marked by disillusionment and division? The answer lies not in placing our face solely in electoral politics, but in recognizing the power of collective action, grassroots organizing, and collective action. and sustained advocacy to bring about lasting change.

**** – (): We are often told to vote harder, as if the solution to our societal challenges lies solely in electoral victories. But what happens if your candidate loses? What then? How do we reconcile the fervent hopes of electoral success with with the stark reality of defeat. Just like the final game of a championship, someone has got to lose.

[00:45:00] – (): The reality is, someone is going to lose the upcoming election. But what matters most is not the outcome itself, but how we respond to it. Instead of succumbing to despair, or resorting to division, we must channel our energies into protecting the institutions that underpin our democracy. It’s in times of uncertainty and adversity that we must that our commitment to the rule of law, free and fair elections, and the separation of powers is put to the test.

**** – (): So how can you work to protect these institutions? How can you ensure that your voice is heard and your values are upheld regardless of who holds power? These are the questions we must grapple with as engaged citizens in a democratic society. Remember, your guy might lose. What will you do when that happens?

**** – (): Will you retreat into apathy and resignation, or will you rise to the challenge with resilience and determination? As we conclude this episode, let us remember that the true measure of our democracy lies not in the outcome of any single election, but in our collective commitment to upholding the principles of justice, equality, and freedom for all.

[00:46:00] – (): Because in the end, it’s up to you. It’s not about winning against each other. It’s about winning together.

**** – (): That is it for this episode of the Outrage Overload podcast. I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who contributed to this episode. Big thanks to political scientists Kevin Smith and Sean Evans, as well as Andrea Shedler, Thomas Eitzoff, and thanks to Eli Finkel. Also, my co director, Austin Chen, documentary filmmaker, Alex Chabonow.

[00:47:00] – (): And my wife Lisa, who offered invaluable feedback and guidance. Finally, many thanks to Zachary Elwood of Starts With Us. Your collective support made this episode possible. I can’t thank you enough. Alright, see you in a couple [00:48:00] weeks.


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