Michael Austin’s Enemies, and What He Says About Them

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Michael Austin (who, for the record, is an old and close friend) does not fit most people’s stereotype of a “patriot,” the sort of person would would proudly fly an American flag and attend parades on Memorial Day. After all, he’s an academic, a cosmopolitan, a liberal Democrat, a scholar of 17th-century English rhetoric, Mormon environmentalism, world literature, and the book of Job; when he wrote an earlier book about the Founding Fathers, it was entirely about how right-wing patriots completely misunderstand them. So it would be easy to assume that Michael’s attachment to the idea of “America” would be distant, contextual, and intellectual at best.

That assumption would be wrong–or mostly wrong, anyway. You’d very likely be correct about the flag and the parades. But Michael’s latest book, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America’s Civic Tradition, makes it clear that his attachment to–indeed, his “belief” in–the civic idea of America is both serious and strong. As long as I’ve known the man, it surprised me to see in these pages so much genuine passion and concern over the direction of the United States at the present moment. When he takes a line from the famous closing paragraph of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address–“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies”–as his title, he really means it: he really believes that America’s liberal democracy both provides a vital opportunity for, and levies upon us all a specific demand for, friendship. That friendship is, in his view, essential to America’s “civic tradition”; democratic legitimacy in the American state–to say nothing of good government–is impossible without it.

Joseph Smith, the founder of the religious tradition that Michael and I (and probably 90% of everyone who reads this blog post) share, famously stated that “friendship” is a “foundational principle,” a “revolution” that could “civilize the world.” This is not the sort of friendship that Michael is talking about. He does not conceive of the United States as a family or a community characterized by–or one that needs to be characterized by–deep senses of affection or charity; indeed, he starts his book out making it clear that he is not talking about how we all need to be nicer, or how we need to change the U.S. Constitution in a more communitarian or participatory direction, or how we just need to figure out who is worthy of friendship and who isn’t. Michael instead proposes that the friendship which America needs is “civic friendship,” and he uses Lincoln and a great many other historical examples–from the long, once broken, ultimately repaired friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; to Preston Brook’s violent response to Charles Sumner’s furious speech in the Senate against slavery; to the little known story of President Chester Arthur’s willingness to change his mind, profoundly improve the functioning of America’s bureaucracy, and accept the political consequences–to flesh out his idea. At its heart, Michael’s civic friendship means taking seriously the long-term interests of one’s fellow citizens–whether or not one agrees with, or can even barely tolerate, those citizens or their respective interests–simply as a matter of justice. The operation of the American democratic system, as he sees it, depends upon our use of persuasion, and our willingness to endure persuasion’s frequent failures, as we debate and disagree about how to govern ourselves. To give up on persuasion means, for Michael, to deny the justice encoded in the democratic principles at the heart of our system (principles which, as he regularly acknowledges, emerged and continue to emerge only through much struggle, argument, and time), and instead simply accept that those you disagree with are your enemies, worthy only of being punched (at best).

Beginning with Aristotle’s philia politike (which Michael defines as mutual self-interest elevated by goodwill, the desiring of the “well-being of [one’s] fellow citizens for its own sake”–p. 36), and building upon Alexis de Tocqueville’s many observations about the mores and habits he saw exhibited by the Americans he observed during his visit to the United States in the early 1830s (like the fact our commitment to voting and elections “seeps into almost every aspect of our lives”–p. 22), Michael expands upon the idea of civic friendship through evolutionary psychology, literary analysis, game theory, and more. His case for the possibility of persuasion, and the necessity of acting as though it is possible even in the most extreme and divisive moments, is a strong one. (His detailed study of the argumentative strategies employed, and responded to, by Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in their 1858 debates is one of several highlights throughout this short book.) In addition, the book’s language is often both beautiful and wise; Michael is no poet, but sometimes he expresses his civic friendship ideal in ways that are not only informative, but deeply appealing as well:

We exercise civic friendship, or fail to exercise it, when we decide what kind of society we want to be. We vote on this question every day–occasionally in a formal election but more often through the purchases we make, the people and institutions we choose to associate with, and the things that we give our attention to. No law can force us, and no syllogism can persuade us, to care about other people; only friendship can do that. When animated by a genuine concerns for the well-being of others, we will find ways to make our society more just. When animated by civic enmity or the desire to injure or defeat some group of people, we will find ways to make our society less just (pp 38-39).

This is the sort of language that ought to give everyone who has ever unfriended, snarked at, or triumphantly shouted down those they assume to be hopelessly wrong–the Mormon-bashers, the Trump-supporters, the pro-choicers, the Confederate flag-flyers, the PETA-funders–a serious pause. Less noticeably, but perhaps more importantly, it is language that ought to also give everyone who has occasionally felt themselves weirdly connecting with others against the assumed grain of American discourse–the Democratic Socialist of America activist who enjoys spending time with conservative farmers, the libertarian Google coder whose best friend is a life-long Marine, the conservative Christian who adores her membership in the local Quentin Tarantino fan club–some real encouragement: maybe they’re doing something right! By so doing, it provide both groups, and everyone in between, a larger sense of how their–how all of our–choices fit, or don’t fit, with America’s democratic ethos, and thereby provides much needed encouragement (and warnings as well). Solely on an ethical level, Michael’s book is both vital and valuable; as a Memorial Day read, I can’t possibly recommend it more highly.

That said–can I also recommend it on a political level? That is, do I think his diagnosis of American democracy, as a matter of political theory and political practice, is correct? Only partly. Hence, once I put on my own academic hat, I can only recommend the book with a couple of large caveats. I’ll lay those out now, but they aren’t going to affect the five stars I’m giving this book, so if feel free to skip the next several paragraphs and go to the end if that was your only reason for reading this far.

The first of my caveats is ideological in character; the second is structural, though they overlap in important ways. Let’s begin with the ideological: Michael, as all of the above should make apparent, is not just a liberal Democrat, but a bone-deep philosophical liberal, someone who is entirely convinced that liberal principles of rationality, individuality, and pragmatism provide the only accounts of human freedom and flourishing worth defending. This means, of course, that there some major elisions in the book–not necessarily ones which Michael couldn’t address and respond to, but ones that, as he made decisions about what to include and what to exclude in this 155-page book (with 30 pages of appendices), I suspect simply never seemed important to him.

For example, consider Michael’s rather cavalier treatment of the inevitable “what about Nazis?” question (pp. 70-72). It’s not that his eminently pragmatic responses (such as: the odds of anyone meeting an actual Nazi is vanishingly small; asking if one has to show civic friendship to a Nazi is probably just a self-interested effort of giving oneself an exemption from the obligations of American citizenship; proudly rejecting the intolerant only plays to one’s own peer group and never advances actual discourse; etc.) are wrong–they aren’t. But Michael can’t, in my judgment, build a moral case for particular sorts of democratic actions on the basis of a civil religion without articulating the place of, and the relationship others should have to, those who rejects the basic precepts of a particular community’s civil faith. And Michael does build such a case: his liberal principles are, on my reading, deeply parasitic upon republican and civil religious assumption.

Michael only mentions “civil religion” a couple of times–once to define it, following Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, as “wishing others well” instead of “wishing them ill,” and once to insist, despite today’s partisan divisions, that we still “hold enough beliefs in common to build a political process based on persuasion” (pp. 40, 147). It’s my belief, though, and the belief of many others, that to take seriously an Aristotelian framework for understanding civic action–which Michael absolutely does–makes it impossible to avoid the human impulse to “understand the actions of individuals (including oneself) as embedded in some sort of collective, morally (and often religiously) substantive–that is, ‘truthful’–cultural order.” In other words, I do not see how it is possible to believe that the communal and cultural awarenesses which allow for concepts like “well-being” or “justice” to even make sense can avoid carrying with them (and even, despite the bogeyman this presents philosophical liberals with everyone, occasionally “establishing”) some kind of clear communitarian or cultural or ideological marker. (Consider: how can one express what doing “well” is, as opposed to doing “ill,” or what a “just” relationship is, versus an “unjust” relationship, absent some kind of substantive body of social or moral ideas being concomitant with or at least broadly accepted among those doing the expressing?) This is, in my view, Republicanism 101; Michael at one point mentions the classic Roman phrase “res publica,” and how it relates to Aristotle’s preferred mixed regime (the “politeia“), but he doesn’t mention that the literal meaning of res publica, and thus the root meaning of republicanism, is “the public thing”–thus making it incumbent upon anyone who wants to make use of these ideas to define just which “public” is being referred to. The earliest English translations of these republican notions is what gave us “commonweal” and “commonwealth”–which, of course, cannot help but take as their beginning some specific “commons,” some specific people or place or public, and what norms or habits or preferences are central to their own “weal,” their own wellness. Which means, in the end, that one cannot avoid dealing with the problem of those whose habits or norms or preferences lead towards positions which the community understands as the opposite of well-being.

Admittedly, there are other ways to understand this particular ideological matter, and it’s one Michael and I have argued about before. But look: saying that Michael can’t get to where he wants to get by way of civic friendship without dealing with the genuine theoretical problem of those whose beliefs are actually not “friendly” to the American community, does not mean that he needs to abandon his liberal convictions. Many liberal thinkers–John Rawls most famously–have labored (some with more success than others) over how one can sensibly defend the ideal of a liberal community of real fairness and decency that would be, nonetheless, freely chosen by all the different people who are part of it. No, I’m not expecting Michael to write his own version of A Theory of Justice; I’m just saying that if he wants to convincingly call to civic friendship those who, say, by their own philosophical and moral lights, genuinely understand baby-murdering abortionists and women-enslaving Republicans to be beyond the pale of any possible persuasion, then he needs to articulate a strong and substantive enough definition of the American community so as to ground that friendship which such people can supposedly share. Of course, one could abandon such substance, in favor of (as Rawls ultimately did) some kind of proceduralism: an “overlapping consensus” of self-interested electoral protections, perhaps. In other words: I hate you, but I won’t shoot you in the face, and instead I’ll just try to win elections, because I don’t want to be shot in the face either. That isn’t necessarily a bad ethic! But it’s not an ethic that cares at all about “America’s Civic Tradition,” as Michael’s subtitle does, either.

Michael’s subtitle brings me to my structural, and more simple, complaint: restoring civic friendship, as vital and valuable as I agree it is, cannot, in my judgment, restore America’s civic tradition, because the basic operations of our democratic and electoral systems are no longer responsive to republican civic action, or at least not nearly as much as they once were. There are a hundred ways to examine this degeneration of America’s constitutional order, even if one restricts oneself solely to basic republican principles. There is the way the enormous gap between the wealthy and the poor in the United States undermines any sense of a common good; the way the legal recognition of money as equivalent to speech corrupts the trust voters are supposed to have in their elected representatives; the way globalization disrupts the patterns of life by which citizens might feel any real ownership over their communities; etc. Michael does note at the beginning of the book that he feels no obligation to address any comprehensive proposals for reform, simply because, until “people in the country trust each other and are willing to set aside differences and work for the common good,” none of them will happen. His decision–and it’s a perfectly reasonable one–is to focus on “things that we actually control,” specifically “the way we talk to other people” (pp. 9-10). To the extent that not being enemies is a chicken-and-egg problem–something he acknowledges at the very end of the book, in a thoughtful section on the “risk of embrace”; basically the “who starts treating their enemies as friends first?” question (pp. 154-155)–then simply asserting the need to begin with persuasion is entirely defensible. Except for the fact that even Michael himself can’t ignore the structural obstacles to persuasion in America today entirely.

Twice in the book–once while invoking President Johnson’s insistence upon getting Republican support as the Democrats pushed the 1964 Civil Rights Act through the Senate, and once when talking about combating the way partisan polarization benefits small groups of extremists (pp. 73-74, 81)–he makes an important admission: “Our primary election system makes this dynamic especially difficult.” Michael does imply that the problem here is voters that “rarely reward” politicians who compromise, but his own language makes it clear he knows that, when it comes to career-minded politicians who wish to maintain their party’s nomination, it is not the “voters” in general but rather “well-funded primary challenges” that are the problem. Without a complete transformation in how parties operate, how candidates are recruited, and how elections are paid for–the sort of transformations which Michael said was beyond the scope of his book–you can’t get away from the problem that primary contests pose for the ideal of elected politicians acting as agents of, and responders to, real democratic persuasion. Which means that, in this matter at least, the “way we talk to other people” has to be less about democratic debate and more about building coalitions of the like-minded sufficient to challenge major funding sources, with the aim of occasionally, in one election or another, actually disrupting their entrenched control over the process. At the present corrupt moment, unfortunately, truly concerned voters I think often need to act more along the line of Alinsky’s rules, rather than Austin’s.

Note what I said there: “often,” not “always.” The ideal of civic friendship is not simply a fine ideal; it is an ethically meaningful one. Michael is, as I said at the beginning, a genuine believer in the aspirational possibilities and principles he sees as embodied in America’s constitutional democracy–his commitment to the practice of liberal democracy is nothing less than patriotic, in every sense of the word. Yes, I think his liberal equanimity gets in the way of his dealing with serious theoretical problems that his aspirations cannot honestly avoid addressing in the United States of America, circa 2019; and moreover, I think his sole focus on our personal rhetoric and political choices and relationships cannot, in the face of actual anti-republican obstacles out there, actually do what he hopes it will do. But so what? Maybe American democracy is in terminal decline, or maybe there will be some revolution to restore it or make it into something different–maybe some of those reading this will even be part of that revolution, whatever it may be. But whether this country, whom so many have sacrificed so much for over its 230 years of existence, declines or improves or just muddles along, the ethical and civic rightness of Michael’s call to practice democratic friendship and trust will endure. Michael is anything but a moralizer, but at the book’s end he returns to the call I quoted above, and it remains a powerful one: “[W]e vote every day for the kind of country we want to live in. We vote by how we choose to participate–or not participate–in the civic life of our democracy. Every time we have a political conversation, we are casting a vote for the kind of political conversations we want to have” (p. 155).

From what I’ve seen over more than a quarter-century, Michael’s whole life, academic and otherwise, has been guided by his deep liberality and rationality–his conviction that any two people, or any two tribes or religions or genders or anything else, assuming even just the most minimal of civic connection, nonetheless can and should be friends. Not just mutual sharers of procedural tolerance, but people who share, in the midst of their endless and perhaps necessary disagreements, a desire for the well-being of one another. This liberal Christianity is how he approaches the contentious world around him, and around us all. It’s a rather beautiful ideal–even, perhaps, as Smith suggested, a revolutionary one, though Michael’s notion of civic friendship doesn’t really have a place for those who see a need to revolt against that which sometimes makes friendship harder than it should be. That’s a flaw, perhaps. But this Memorial Day, I salute Michael’s patriotic defense of civic friendliness, American-style, and of the choice to talk and listen to one’s fellow citizens with openness, seriousness, and respect. Buy three copies, and given them away to the first MAGA hat-wearer and first BLM protestor–and then, most crucially, the first snooty “pox-on-both-your-houses!” self-righteous supposed independent–you meet. None of them may need the book, or like it–but you never know.


  1. It’s kind of hard to be friends if one side is willing to be friends, and the other side is not; for decades. When one side understands compromise and is willing to negotiate, and the other side throws a temptertantrum and walks out of the room when they don’t get exactly what they want.

  2. I suspect Michael wouldn’t disagree with you at all, Jader3rd; he’d sympathize, but then observe that being a citizen in a democracy is hard too.

  3. @jader3rd: So are you talking about the Republicans….or the Democrats? I know those of both stripes that do this exact behaviour. No “party” holds any idealogical edge. The republicans threw a tantrum and would not allow a vote for a new supreme court justice (which was totally within the purview of the sitting president), and the democrats threw a tantrum, disrupted hearings and tried to crucify the character of the latest SC nominatee.

    My viewpoint (full disclosure: No party affiliation at this point) is that both parties love their country, want a path that they percieve is best, and have different ways in which to accomplish this. The hyper-partisanship (read Geo. Washingtons farewell address) that exists today seems to preclude any real meeting of the minds on how to create a society that best address issues in our country. Listening and some compromise really are the key to some sort of dialogue. I applaud those who will discuss in a rational manner any troubling issue.

  4. @Paul, I am. And I want to be objective. I don’t like the “both sides are doing it” argument either, because while I don’t see either side as perfect it does look like one side engages in uncooperative behavior significantly more often than the other.
    In your example of Supreme Court nomination processes, one side completely did not assist the President in finding a nominee (refused to hold hearings), while in the other example the other side tried to bring up issues which were concerning to them. You might have felt that both were playing dirty politics, but there’s an order of magnitude difference between the two.
    I think if you were able to create an objective list, the list length on one side would be way larger than the other.

  5. C. Keen says:

    I wish that Michael’s posts here at BCC followed the same ethic he argues for in his book. Instead he uses this blog as a platform to casually dismiss central shared principles of belief and to harangue faithful church members for our backwardness. I don’t know what to make of that, but it saddens me.

  6. thegenaboveme says:

    I had a chance to read an advanced copy of the book. Well, truth be told, I’ve had many dinner conversations with the author about the topics in this book. Nevertheless, I do think people who are not related to the author will find value in its contents.

    Austin has spent decades studying and writing about the relationship between politics and public discourse. He brings his expertise to the subject of how people talk to each other about politics. The book takes the current situation of polarized debates on politics and applies rhetorical analysis and historical models to the problem of people failing to build common ground enough to even debate.

    It turns out the the US and other democracies experience this as a persistent problem, so there is a lot of historical examples (Jefferson/Adams foes to friends, Lincoln-Douglas debates, Eisenhower on public vs private policy views on school desegregation, etc.).

    Here is the Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: “The Height to Be Superb Humanity”
    Chapter 2: “The Apprenticeship of Liberty”
    Chapter 3: “We Are Not Enemies, but Friends”
    Chapter 4: Parties and Political Tribes
    Chapter 5: The Great American Outrage Machine
    Chapter 6: The Opposite of Friendship
    Chapter 7: The Majesty of Persuasion
    Chapter 8: Agreeing to Disagree
    Chapter 9: “Think It Possible You May Be Mistaken”
    Chapter 10: The Vision and the Dream
    Appendix A: James Madison “Federalist No. 10”
    Appendix B: John Quincy Adams, _Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory_
    Appendix C: Alexis de Tocqueville, _Democracy in America_

    Reading the book not only taught me ways that I can change how I talk with others about politics (and a host of other tension-filled topics). I learned a lot about US history, ancient Athens, European philosophy, and contemporary science on evolutionary psychology, cognition, game theory, and rhetoric.

    Here is a passage that explains a bit about the aim of the book behind all the historical examples and scientific theories:

    “Arguing with people we _do_ want to preserve a relationship with also teaches us how to argue with people we _should_ want to preserve a relationship with. When we disagree with our friends, we show respect and deference. We constantly signal that our disagreement is not a reflection of the way we feel about them. We take steps to ensure that arguments about things that reasonable people of goodwill can view in different ways. We do, in other words, all the things that we should always do when talking to other human beings about things that they consider important” (This quote is on page 79, but it could shift by one page between the early version I have and the final version for sale).

    In the 21st Century, we’ve developed a lot of technology for communicating with each other. Austin’s book gives us some guidance on how to increase the quality of our communication.

  7. Michael Austin says:

    C Keene,

    While I appreciate the sentiment, I suspect that you would find “the ethic I argue for in the book” to be every bit as obnoxious to you as my posts at BCC. Both are underwritten by my belief that genuine love and friendship are not incompatible with strenuous disagreement. Language “casually dismiss central shared principles of belief “and “harangue faithful church members for our backwardness” seeks to pathologize disagreement–to suggest that, in order to be a friend one must take care never to challenge core beliefs or important principles. This is something that I reject entirely in the civic realm and, for different reasons, in the ecclesiastical realm as well. Here is a quote from the introduction to the book:

    “This book will have little to say about what people normally call “civility.” If we could use the word the way that the Romans once did—as something like “citizencraft” or “civic engagement”—it would be exactly the right word to describe what I think we need more of. But in contemporary usage, “civility” usually gets reduced to “politeness.” This is not merely wrong; it is exactly wrong. Civic engagement is necessary to democracy. Politeness is not even particularly helpful. Meaningful civic discussion can aspire to be respectful, but it must never try to be polite.

    I am not suggesting that we try to be rude or hurtful. But the essence of good manners is to make sure that everybody feels comfortable, while any political discussion worth having requires us to make sure that everybody feels uncomfortable. Discomfort produces tension, and tension is essential to growth, persuasion, compromise, and forward movement. And while it might be nice to manage the necessary levels of tension with grace and good humor—focusing only on arguments without criticizing or becoming defensive—this probably isn’t going to happen because human beings just don’t work that way.

    The desire to be polite will often push us away from precisely the uncomfortable discussions that we need to have. And this is just when we are talking to our friends. When we worry about being polite with political opponents, we will often discover that everybody is a lot more comfortable just not talking at all. And this is the fatal shift. When we choose to be comfortable instead of having hard conversations, we stop doing democracy.”

  8. nobody, really says:

    I hate to break this to everybody, but we don’t live in a democracy.

  9. Michael Austin says:

    nobody, I disagree. From a footnote:

    “Much ink has been spilled, not always wisely, parsing the difference between a “republic” and a “democracy.” In the usage of Ancient Greece and Rome, a democracy was a small city in which every citizen voted on almost every issue. Clearly the United States is not such a nation. But neither are we quite like the Roman Republic, in which the common people voted only for a slate of elected leaders who decided everything else. However, this is a purely academic distinction in the twenty-first century, as there has not been a direct, Athenian democracy in the world for two thousand years and the broader term “democracy” can refer to a wide variety of government
    systems that combine multiparty elections, written constitutions, and adherence to
    the rule of law.”

  10. C. Keen says:

    Michael, no, I’m familiar with the problems of civility. What saddens me is how you routinely dismiss the concerns of faithful church members as trivialities and signs of ignorance that deserve no respect and do not need to be taken seriously. I really liked your long-ago post about arguing as friends. I wish you would live up to it.

  11. “At the present corrupt moment, unfortunately, truly concerned voters I think often need to act more along the line of Alinsky’s rules, rather than Austin’s.”

    Wasn’t it Alinksy rules that got us in this situation in the first place? One side thought that incrementalism through compromise always moved things in one direction. (I’m not sure that’s entirely the case – people will point to deregulation going in the conservative direction since Reagan but that’s debatable) It’s because compromise always was moving in one direction that they started embracing Alinksy rules. Then corrupt groups who figured out they could make a lot of money telling these people what they wanted to hear started doing that so there started to be an information divide.

    I’d agree that it’s more one side than the other, but I’d also say that I think the same phenomena is taking hold. I certainly agree with Michael that talking to one an other is the best solution. The problem is that due to the economic problem with news, media is becoming more sensationalist and outrage driven than ever. Yes informed people can read numerous news sites with a skeptical mind looking for what’s true. But most people, if they follow the news at all, follow cable news which tends to misinform more than it informs (even when the correct data is part of the broadcast). I don’t want to get into both sideism here, but it’s not just conservatives who become misinformed via facebook, twitter, or cable news. Even among the so-called educated elite there’s a huge divide and a lot of misinformation. However even they are a minority.

    I hope we can do what Michael outlines, but the more likely outcome is a return to the politics of the 19th century. When perhaps Alinksy rules and power is all that matters. There’s too many incentives against mutual love and understanding and too few for it.

  12. Wasn’t it Alinksy rules that got us in this situation in the first place?

    I would argue “no,” Clark, though your overall point is a good one. Still, on my reading of American political history, the foreclosure of republican or civic routes to achieving democratic governance, and hence the foreclosure of persuasion as it generally functioned for, say, around 150 years so (call it from the rise of mass political parties and the expansion of suffrage in the 1830s, up through the breakdown of the New Deal system in the 1970s and 1980s), was mostly a top-down thing, rather than an Alinskyesque bottom-up thing. I’m talking about Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 Supreme Court decision that said money = speech; I’m talking about the effective elimination the Fairness Doctrine through the massive deregulation of media conglomerates with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, etc. Basically, the media and campaign finance ecosystems of American politics, which obviously had evolved in different ways over the decades, were pretty much all uprooted in a single generation. The dysfunction and polarization of parties and primaries quickly followed suit.

  13. Well by my comments on Alinsky rules I was more pointing to the explicit embrace of them by a certain segment of the populist right starting in the 1990’s. (Gingrich’s movement being one example) That is they modeled themselves quite consciously and explicitly on how they saw the far left having success in the 1960’s and 1970’s. That in turn tends to be the point, particularly after the collapse of the Bush administration due to the Iraq war and Katrina, when communication really and truly breaks down.

    I think the broader issues you raise certain play an effect, although I’d probably disagree with you on how much. (And frankly whether they are good since I think a compelling case can be made equating speech and money)

  14. To add, I don’t think the issue is the fairness doctrine or the telecommunications act of 1996. Rather it’s the rise of the internet and what that did to media business plans. You could have had all those laws and the internet would have been just as disruptive to the media leading to the same current situations.

    As I said I don’t think the problem of media due to the collapse of income due to free online classified pages and competition from nearly free “presses” is the only problem. I think that in the 90’s conservatives embraced what they saw as liberal successes. (I don’t agree with their perception, but then I see the same thing happening on the left and don’t agree with their perceptions of the right either) That move towards radicalism, perceptions of politics as a zero sum game, and the disappearance of moderates in both parties made an already bad media situation worse.

  15. I too wish we could have civil conversations on our differences. I do not believe it is possible however. People no longer believe in the inherent goodwill of those who disagree with them. And they believe that labelling someone as equal to Hitler is all that is necessary to dismiss them. (I spent years living within a couple of blocks from an Oakland, California movie theater that regularly compared Pres. Bush and Vice Pres. Cheney to Hitler on their marquee. I grew tired of Bay Area liberals who stated their approval and thought this opinion constituted political discourse. And we saw very clearly what happened to those who gave money to Prop 8; several of them were forced out of their jobs, a rather high price to pay for expressing your opinion, especially when your opinion was the stated belief of over half the voters at the time.)
    What stumped me was the complete amazement of Bay Area liberals when Donald Trump was elected. I hated Trump but could see the needs he was addressing that had been pushed aside and belittled. They could not, because coal miners and manufacturing workers were totally outside their experience and, more importantly, outside their notice and concern. They were the future, working for ride sharing companies whose IPO would make them rich, on the labor of those they classified as independent contractors, so they would not need to pay even minimum wage. They disrupted whole industries as they created Amazon sweatshops and Facebook fake news. And the robber barons of the 21st century mimicked the railroad barons of the 19th, purchasing city blocks for their homes and denying beach access to their fellow citizens through endless court cases. But just like the robber barons of old, we worshipped their success and wealth. Presidential candidates courted their campaign contributions and endorsements. We brushed aside tales of their sordid behavior and allowed their virtue signalling to substitute for real care for their workers. Why should we care if Apple exploits their Asian workers, President Tim Cook is gay. Why should we care about enriching Amazon’s Bezos with our purchases,; he publicly praised the wife he betrayed for her charitable giving. Isn’t that enough to constitute a great ex-husband. We prove with every purchase what we really value. And it is not the welfare of our brothers and sisters. Nor is it loyalty to God’s commandments.
    So I am a political conservative who believes that we are in the same place in history the US found itself in the decade prior to the Civil War, capable of avoiding the coming destruction but unwilling to. One wonders if at the end of that war and in the poverty that plagued the South for the next hundred years, the participants wished they had shown a willingness to compromise and avoid their destruction.
    According to scripture, we only have to look forward to the death of one-third of the world and spending years burying the dead as we cope with the stench of their decaying bodies. So why should we learn to listen and consider others. Certainly no one I care about will be among the dead. Or if they are, I will just do their temple work, (Mormon virtue signalling).

  16. I know it’s too much to hope that Mike’s book will provide answers that magically make us all friends again. What I do hope is that there may be some workable advice to let me speak to either of my brothers again someday without feeling like coexistence depends solely on my being the one to hold my tongue, absorbing waves of contempt rolling over me from men who have no desire even for my friendship, much less mutual understanding.

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