According to a growing body of political-science research, Americans largely no longer feel a shared sense of national identity. Democrats and Republicans see their political opponents as enemies with totally incomprehensible beliefs and lifestyles. On impeachment, members of the two parties see things radically differently, not just because they have dissimilar political opinions, but because they have entirely divergent views on how to approach life. The vicious impeachment fight ahead may further exacerbate polarization in America, leaving Republicans, Democrats, and everyone in between feeling even more suspicious of one another. . . .
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. The archetypes Hetherington and Weiler draw in their 2018 book, Prius or Pickup?, are intuitively recognizable: 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.This sharp worldview divide helps explain the current dynamics in Washington around impeachment—why people are so angry, and why each side automatically counts each new revelation as evidence for its case.
Actually, “worldview” goes much deeper, having to do not just with child raising philosophy but what one believes about God, nature, human nature, the source of morality, the meaning of life, etc., etc. I’m not sure these researchers fully engage that and the complexity that often arises. For example, is morality based on a transcendent absolute or do we make it up for ourselves? OK, we can see that social conservatives believe the former, while social liberals believe the latter. That does correspond pretty well with the political division. But which of those worldview descriptors best describes the morality of Donald Trump? And which side today sounds more like moral absolutists–being judgmental, expressing moral indignation, signaling their virtue, and exuding self-righteousness–and which side is willing to give character flaws and personal transgressions a pass?
Also, the researchers are, once again, displaying their own political bias, which is against the rules of social-science objectivity, applying their findings to Trump supporters, while being almost comically blind to how their findings apply to themselves. (“Partisan bias is so strong that even in the absence of strong counterarguments on behalf of the president, we’re seeing no movement in public opinion about impeachment.”)
But the biggest problem with the study is revealed in its title: Prius or Pickup? Clearly at issue here is not just worldview but social class. Progressives who deign to campaign in Iowa or in rust belt factories may be surprised–even frightened at the “performative shows of toughness”–when they see so many working class Democrats driving pickups. I also know quite a few conservatives who drive hybrids, not because they are trying to save the environment but because they are so tight-fisted with their money and like the high gas mileage. (As in the old joke: Liberals drive Priuses because they want everyone to see them driving a hybrid. Conservatives drive hybrids that look just like the other models because they don’t want anyone to see them driving a hybrid.)
Still, I think the research connecting worldview and politics is on to something, but I’m not exactly sure what that is. Any ideas?
Illustration from Pixabay, CC0, Public Domain