The Civil War and Polarization Today


In these divisive days, I’m drawn to the U.S. Civil War. Not only are its monuments a matter of debate, but something about that quintessential national division is cathartic to the sense of animosity and alienation that plague me every time I scroll through my newsfeed. Recent events like those in Charlottesville echo many of the motifs that played out in the Civil War, reminding us once again that our history is never entirely buried in the past. As in the days of Lincoln, the United States is in a moment of (re)definition, something David Brooks has referred to as an “national identity crisis.” Although the current crisis is not necessarily about federalism, states’ rights, and slavery, it certainly implicates race relations and the role of the government in legislating morality, and ultimately boils down to what it means to be American. The current contestation and negotiation of these questions may not culminate in war, but the battle lines are being drawn—gay marriage, abortion, immigration, health care, welfare—our own ideological Mason-Dixon lines.

I have turned to the Civil War to learn what I can about a divided America, and its ultimately victorious refusal to remain divided.   Continue reading


Resisting Polarization in Our Community (Part 2)


In my previous post, I listed a number of tools we have discovered for resisting polarization on social media. In that search, we also came across a number of other groups and resources that seem to have similar goals, but are less interested in online spaces. As before, we are not associated with any of these groups, but like to think of this blog, with its aim to provide thoughtful, respectful, and nonpartisan (though admittedly somewhat conservative) commentary about contemporary issues, as very much aligned with their work. Check them out, and let us know what you think. And if you are aware of any other groups doing this kind of work, please let us know.  Continue reading

Preventing Polarization on Social Media (Part 1)


If, like me, you’re tired of the seemingly unceasing stream of polarizing commentary and interactions, you may be interested in the following resources that seek to change the current trajectory of our social media discourse. We offer this as an initial collection of depolarizing resources. There may be more (and if you are aware of any, please let us know). As far as we can tell, however, this is the first compilation of an emerging toolbox for resisting polarization. Check them out and let us know what you think. Continue reading

How to Disagree Like Lincoln


I just finished watching Dean Ryan’s speech at the commencement ceremony of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in which he encouraged the graduates to “lead with grace.” I’ve always liked Dean Ryan, and I’ve been particularly impressed with him on multiple occasions. For example, although he is a rather liberal leader at a rather liberal institution, he has resisted one-sidedness by inviting conservative speakers to campus and holding real debates over sometimes partisan issues like charter schools. As a “conservative with liberal friends,” I consider Dean Ryan a liberal friend to conservatives–something that feels quite rare to me these days, especially in higher education. One of the things I appreciated about his speech is the way he was able to talk about his catholic upbringing and the theological connotation of the word grace in a non-religious setting–that alone was striking–but he was also able to do it without alienating a religiously diverse and secular audience. The speech itself was an example of bringing together differing perspectives into a unified whole, a rhetorical e pluribus unum. In a time of division, that kind of synthesis is lovely. Continue reading

What Role Should Religion Play in American Politics?


[We’re happy to publish this guest post, written in response to “Reconciling Religion and Politics in Post-Obama America,” by John Griffin.]

In his March 20 post, David takes on a hot topic of late: whether religious views should be granted a more prominent and respectful place in American political discussion.  David’s answer – from his opening account of a God-fearing African American taxi driver to his warning that “failing to validate” religious voices will lead to social fragmentation – is an emphatic YES.  Without a place for such expression, David argues, the public sphere would become exclusionary and – with respect to fostering social cohesion – ineffective.

Historically, David would seem to be arguing the obvious. After all, religious elements have always played a major role in American politics, and to deny them significant voice ignores history and reality.  It turns out, for example, that one of the most religious groups in the American polity – measured by church attendance, prayer and members’ own self-identification – is African American Protestants, also one of the most loyal Democratic voting blocs.  Why then should those who champion progressive causes and view such groups as important political allies go to such lengths to exclude religious views from political discussion? Continue reading

Why Don’t Democrats Take Religion Seriously? (From The Atlantic)

This resonated with my thoughts in my last blog post, so I thought I’d share it here. I stumbled upon this video, which appeared at the bottom of an article I was reading that also seems very much in line with The Brothers Sabey: Do the Culture Wars Really Represent America? Check both of them out, and let us know what you think!