America’s divisions may have passed the turning point

Have America’s much-discussed political tensions reached the point of no going back? Political tribalists who order their lives partisan and despise opponents have become an integral part of national life. But now researchers say polarization may reach a “tipping point” where external threats like pandemics no longer crowd people together, but instead become further sources of conflict that spiral out of control. Your warning comes as Americans appear ready to escalate disagreements further into open violence.

“We see this very disturbing pattern where shock initially brings people a little closer together, but if the polarization is too extreme, the effects of a common fate will eventually be overshadowed by existing divisions and people will be split on the shock issue themselves. ” Boleslaw Szymanski of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute told Cornell University interviewers. Szymanski is co-author of “Polarization and tipping points”Published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He added, “If we get to this point, we will not be able to unite ourselves in the face of war, climate change, pandemics or any other challenge to the survival of our society.”

The paper’s authors wanted to know why the COVID-19 pandemic did not push Americans to work together on a common threat, but instead was another source of disagreement. They developed a model to study the effects of party identity and political intolerance.

“We found that the polarization only increases incrementally up to a point,” says Michael Macy of Cornell, who led the study. “At that point there is a sudden change in the fabric of the institution, like switching from water to steam when the temperature goes above boiling point.”

The result, according to the study, is “a critical point that is difficult to predict and at which a reversal of polarization is unlikely”.

Of course, models are not real life. But the researchers took inspiration from real developments – developments so worrying that the topic Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which the paper was published was is dedicated to the dynamics of political polarization. After all, we live in a country where people sort lifestyles, leisure preferences and careers according to party affiliations.

“Also consider the growing segregation in our workplaces. The academy is increasingly leaning to the left, particularly in the humanities departments and among staff. Ranchers, lumberjacks, dentists and surgeons are leaning to the right. ” mention, that the University of Michigan Scott Page in the same publication.

Such a political sorting also applies to the military, which severely limits its use in the country’s domestic political disputes some incumbents think that B-52s are the solution to political disagreements. Just two weeks ago, three retired anti-Trump army generals warned that Americans should not resort to troops to quell escalating political unrest.

“The potential for a complete breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines – from the top of the chain to the troop level – is considerable should another insurrection break out,” said Paul Eaton, Antonio Taguba and Steven Anderson wrote by doing Washington Post. “In such a scenario, it is not unreasonable to say that a military collapse could lead to civil war.”

“Civil war” sounds like an improbable fate for an established democracy in which the image of the population is bound by the term in images of field armies in blue-gray uniforms. But no country is more stable than the moment allows, and internal conflicts can be far worse than the mid-19th century war.that Century.

“We now actually know that the two best predictors of the likelihood of violence are whether a country is an anocracy, and that’s a fancy term for a partial democracy, and whether a country has grown up with ethnic entrepreneurs, racist, religious or ethnic divisions to seek political power, “Professor Barbara Walter of the University of California at San Diego said CNN last week. “And the amazing thing about the United States is that both factors currently exist and have evolved surprisingly quickly.”

Walter is a member of the CIA’s Political Instability Task Force, which assesses the health of countries around the world. The task force is not allowed to look at their home country, but Walter did it on his own (she has a Book on the subject will be published in January).

“The United States is pretty close to being at high risk for civil war,” she concluded.

In other words, and on a positive note, just as the stability of a country is not set in stone, it is also not a descent into chaos. The authors of “Polarization and Tipping Points” emphasize that they “make no claim to the predictive accuracy of the model”. Likewise, retired Generals Eaton, Taguba and Anderson, and Walter, cannot to know what is to come, they can only point out warning signs that concern them. We don’t have to live up to the worst of expectations.

While America’s predominant political factions seem determined, like two kids in the back of a car, to poke and shove each other until a fight breaks out, like on this road trip to hell, the solution might be to get the parties involved to separate without letting one have the upper hand. Both the brutal Republican nationalism and the elitist presumption of the Democrats are authoritarian recipes best reserved for the true believers while the rest of us can live our lives however we want.

The election of Joe Biden as President on Promise of normalcy after the Trump years, promise which were immediately broken, indicates that Americans have an appetite for a less extreme and intrusive form of government. Unfortunately, 2020 was a missed opportunity to separate the warring factions and instead we traded one token of the handover for another. Pushback against progressive excess In 2021, the off-year elections looked like another attempt by the public to strike a bit of balance, or at least escape the ambitions of a faction that wants to reshape society according to their vision of condemning other people’s preferences. The question is whether this pushback will be enough to prevent collapse into conflict.

“The process is similar to a core meltdown in a nuclear reactor,” Cornells Macy said about his tipping point research. “When the temperature becomes critical, there is an unstoppable reaction. Our study shows that something very similar can happen in a ‘political reactor’. “

If we’re smart, the US won’t be the test case for this hypothesis. Assuming Americans can learn to leave one another alone, we don’t need to figure out what it means to pass a national point of no return.

Comments are closed.