So, Americans, how mad are you? To be specific, how mad are you at other Americans and what were the seeds of your current level of anger?
As someone who went through the 2016 election cycle in a #NeverTrump #NeverHillary frame of mind, I can't tell you how many times people asked me if that meant that I basically hated everyone in our tense and torn land.
The answer was no, but I had to admit that -- as a guy who self-identified as a pro-life Democrat for decades -- I was already pretty used to being felt left out of these national dramas. I was used to voting third party or going into a voting booth knowing that I faced painful compromises.
So, should I have felt a degree of satisfaction reading that New York Times think piece the other day that ran with this headline, "How We Became Bitter Political Enemies"?
When I saw that, I thought to myself: "Wow, someone is going to go back and trace the venom all the way to Judge Robert Bork." At the very least, this story was going to have to deal with the cultural and political legacy of Roe v. Wade.
No, newspapers have a very short-sighted view of history. In this case, we are talking about a very important set of Pew Research Center numbers that were already causing intense discussion before the attempted massacre of the entire GOP congressional baseball team.
Let's start here, with a chunk of information that is long, but essential reading. The question: Do you think religious, moral and cultural issues are at the heart of this.
“If you go back to the days of the Civil War, one can find cases in American political history where there was far more rancor and violence,” said Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford political scientist. “But in the modern era, there are no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ -- partisan animus is at an all-time high.”
Mr. Iyengar doesn’t mean that the typical Democratic or Republican voter has adopted more extreme ideological views (although it is the case that elected officials in Congress have moved further apart). Rather, Democrats and Republicans truly think worse of each other, a trend that isn’t really about policy preferences. Members of the two parties are more likely today to describe each other unfavorably, as selfish, as threats to the nation, even as unsuitable marriage material.
Surveys over time have used a 100-point thermometer scale to rate how voters feel toward each other, from cold to warm. Democrats and Republicans have been giving lower and lower scores -- more cold shoulder -- to the opposite party. By 2008, the average rating for members of the other party was barely above 30.
Ready for the hammer, the killer stat? Well, in 2016:
... For the first time, the most common answer given was zero, the worst possible option. In other words, voters on the left and right now feel downright frigid toward each other.
Last year, for the first time since it began asking the question in 1992, the Pew Research Center reported a majority of Democrats and Republicans said they held “very unfavorable” views of the opposing party. Since Pew published those findings last summer, that extreme distaste has receded a bit: So far this year, 45 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans hold “very unfavorable” views of the opposing party.
That conclusion follows a sweeping 2014 Pew study that found that “partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive” than at any point in the last two decades.
That negativity appears to have fed a growing perception that the opposing party isn’t just misguided, but dangerous.
In other words, Republicans and Democrats no longer seeing each other as wrong, but as evil. They believe that the convictions of people on the other side of American debates are a threat to their lives, happiness and freedoms.
You need to read all of this. Honest.
But the amazing thing is that the Times team never stops to ask if this divide is essential cultural -- Jesusland vs. Greater Canada, for example -- as opposed to centering on strictly "political" issues.
There is this: The media made us do it.
Political scientists suspect that attack ads, which have grown in number and nastiness, have played a role. And the rise of partisan media has amplified the rhetoric of campaigns, providing confirmation of our worst stereotypes about each other.
Mr. Iyengar also points out that Americans are willing to impugn members of the other party in ways that aren’t publicly acceptable with other groups, like minorities, women or gays. ...
A part of the problem is that Americans are less likely to have the kind of interpersonal contact across party lines that can dampen harsh beliefs about each other. Neighborhoods, workplaces, households and even online dating lives have become politically homogeneous. Voters are less likely today to have neighbors who belong to another party than they were a half century ago. Bipartisan marriages are on the decline.
How about conservative pews vs. liberal pews, or people in Sunday morning pews vs. people in, oh, Sunday morning high-end coffee shops? Did anyone ask religious and moral questions?
Stay tuned. There is more to come.