As we pass the second year marker of the January 6th United States Capitol attack and with the recent multi-round challenges to selecting the current U.S. House Speaker, how do we continue to move forward as a nation in pursuit of strengthening our democracy?
This piece written by NCDDer Dr. Neil Wollman offers tangible options to addressing the polarization and threats to our democracy. We invite you to read the article below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
What to do about polarization, violence, and threats to democracy?
Written by: Dr. Neil Wollman
In the face of growing polarization, strife, threats and actual violence, and even calls for civil war, can we find a means to restore stability to our nation, given the possible dire consequences ahead if we stay on this course? For “we the people” find ourselves situated before two political pathways, each reflective of an entirely different vision for America. But, even with my evident stand on one of the two pathways, I feel it is time to work toward civility and peace.
As President Biden noted in his recent speeches, he believes that authoritarian and, yes, even semi-fascist forces are at play that threaten the very bedrock upon which our nation was built by the founding fathers. As elucidated by political philosopher Furio Cerutti and others, characteristics of these systems may include a strong centralized power/leader with a subordinate political elite, flaunting of the rule of law, weakening separation of powers, interfering in the democratic voting process, a far-right political leaning, use of violence when necessary to maintain control, pursuit of racial purity, general feelings of community decline and victimhood in the populace, and ultra-nationalism. It is hard to generalize across millions of people, but for more than a small minority, much of this mirrors the ideology, rhetoric, and behavior of former President Trump or his followers --even if in a less extreme form. In contrast, there is a significant bloc of the electorate who feel we must take the opposite approach to this agenda.
However, as laid out by Peter Baker and Blake Hounshell, an equal number (69%) of Democrats and Republicans agree that democracy is “in danger of collapse,” each blaming Trump or Biden, respectively. They have differing views on what constitutes such things as freedom and election integrity. In typical “enemy image” fashion, each side sees itself as the good and the other as the bad, or even the evil.
Is there any hope of finding common ground, where each side feels heard?
There can be, via a citizen-engaged democratic initiative to promote a functioning society, with decreased polarization, where each side feels that democracy is working. What we need is a bipartisan government-sponsored national dialogue among diverse citizens/viewpoints at the local level; and there could be additional nationally televised discussions, both of which could serve as models of democracy in action. These groups would also include trained moderators and experts in issues to be discussed: How can we restore trust and integrity in our elections, in the worth and fairness of our media, in our educational institution, and in our governing bodies? How can we bring civility to the public sphere? How can we have a country that offers opportunity and fairness to all and where people can unite for the common good.
These groups would prepare recommendations on how to solve these key national challenges. After collating and refining ideas from the dialogue groups, bipartisan public officials would turn these recommendations into legislation and public and private institutional changes that sought common ground solutions to shared concerns.
This is a tall order, and it will take time, but the established disciplines of mediation and conflict resolution and existing models of community-level dialogue groups show that ideological differences can be bridged. Research shows that simply bringing people together to work toward common goals is a step toward reconciliation. With growing conflict, even if it might fail, something must be tried after the heat of the midterms is over. What have we got to lose if we don’t actively counter the disruptive forces in our society? Everything.
Neil Wollman; Ph. D.; retired Senior Fellow at Manchester and Bentley Universities; Former Co-Director National Prevention Science Coalition. He has written many political op-eds and his work and research has been covered in outlets such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal-- and by Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh.