Over the past few years, hundreds of organizations and thousands ofpeople (myself included) have mobilized to reduce political polarization, encourage civil dialogue and heal national divisions.
The first test case for our movement was the Kavanaugh hearings. It’s clear that at least so far our work is a complete failure. Sixty-nine percent of Americans in one poll called the hearings a “national disgrace,” and the only shocking thing is that there are 31 percent who don’t agree.
What we saw in these hearings was the unvarnished tribalization of national life. At the heart of the hearings were two dueling narratives, one from Christine Blasey Ford and one from Brett Kavanaugh. These narratives were about what did or did not happen at a party 36 years ago. There was nothing particularly ideological about the narratives, nothing that touched on capitalism, immigration or any of the other great disputes of national life.
And yet reactions to the narratives have been determined almost entirely by partisan affiliation. Among the commentators I’ve seen and read, those who support Democrats embrace Blasey’s narrative and dismissed Kavanaugh’s. Those who support Republicans side with Kavanaugh’s narrative and see holes in Ford’s. I can think of few exceptions.
These hearings were also a devastating blow to intellectual humility. At the heart of this case is a mystery: What happened at that party 36 years ago? There is no corroborating evidence either way. So the crucial questions are: How do we sit with this uncertainty? How do we weigh the two contradictory testimonies? How do we measure these testimonies when all of cognitive science tells us that human beings are really bad at spotting falsehood? Should a person’s adult life be defined by something he did in high school?
Commentators and others may have acknowledged uncertainty on these questions for about 2.5 seconds, but then they took sides….
I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.
— Kimberly (@Kimberly10181) October 5, 2018