“A Putin victory would mean the empowerment of a brutal regime committed to wiping out Ukraine’s culture and civil society. Inside a Russian-controlled Ukraine, millions would need to submerge their ethnolinguistic identity, which has been deepening its roots over the 30 years since Ukraine won its independence from the Soviet Union. For millions of Ukrainians, Russian rule would therefore create the stark choice of cleansing themselves of their ethnicity or being ethnically cleansed. A Russian victory would further mean that the initial exodus of six million Ukrainians would be followed into Europe and elsewhere by the flight of many additional millions for whom life is intolerable.
This puts into clear relief the stakes in Ukraine’s courageous struggle against Putin’s Russia. It is the reason why the West’s commitment to arming Ukraine must not flag. Failure to support Ukraine and pressure Russia would not only permit nascent genocidal practices, deepening a mass humanitarian and human rights horror; It would embolden an aggressive, increasingly repressive Russia to menace other neighboring states. We cannot allow this to pass.”
“By September 2021, the scientists and staffers at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had gathered enough data to know that the trees in its green-tree reservoirs — a type of hardwood wetland ecosystem — were dying. At Hurricane Lake, a wildlife management area of 17,000 acres, the level of severe illness and death in the timber population was up to 42 percent, especially for certain species of oak, according to a 2014 forest-health assessment. The future of another green-tree reservoir, Bayou Meto, more than 33,000 acres, would look the same if they didn’t act quickly.
There were a lot of reasons the trees were dying, but it was also partly the commission’s fault. Long ago, the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers and their tributaries would have flooded the bayous naturally, filling bottomland forests during the winter months when the trees were dormant and allowing new saplings to grow after the waters receded in the spring. Widespread European settlement and agriculture largely halted the natural flooding, but in the 1950s, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began buying bottomland forests for preservation, which it then flooded with a system of levees and other tools.
This made the forests an ideal winter stop for ducks to eat and rest on their annual migration south. Arkansas is a magnet for duck hunters, and the state has issued more than 100,000 permits for duck hunters from Arkansas and out of state for every year since 2014. But it turned out the commission was flooding the reservoirs too early and at levels too high, which was damaging the trees. The ducks that arrive in Arkansas especially love eating the acorns from a certain species of oak — and those oaks are now dying.
Austin Booth, director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, knew that convincing the state’s duck hunters and businesses that there was a serious problem would be tricky. Part of the solution the commission planned to propose to save the trees involved delaying the annual fall flooding, which could mean less habitat for the ducks, fewer ducks stopping in the area and more duck hunters crowded into smaller spaces fighting over targets.
And all the duck hunters would have their own ideas about who to blame for the problem and what the solution should be.
Last September, Booth gave a brief speech that was streamed live on YouTube, outlining the problem. He announced a series of public meetings to begin in the following months. Booth told me that when he began to plan those meetings, he thought of all the government meetings and town halls he’d attended after years working in politics. “I wanted to ratchet down some of the intensity that happens when a government official stands up on a stage and talks down to people,” he said.
Instead, he decided the meetings would be dinners where the Game and Fish staff would eat alongside the people they sought to convince. “I just believe there’s a human component to sitting down and having a meal with someone,” he said. At those dinners, he’d give a brief introduction, then invite people to ask questions of the staff as they ate and mingled.
At the end of the dinners, Booth said he’d stand up again and ask, “Is there anyone that’s going to walk through that door tonight without their questions answered or comments taken for the record, or with their concerns ignored?” No one, he said, came forward. The four dinners were attended by between 50 and 100 people, according to Booth, but those attendees then spread the word, dampening criticism of the new management system.
What’s interesting about this dinner program is that it began during the COVID-19 pandemic, which also required effective science communication to convince the public to accept changes, major and minor, to their lives. Even before this pandemic, there’s been a long history of resistance to public health measures and new vaccines, and many researchers suspected that could likely be the case with COVID-19 as well. The social scientists who study these issues might have counseled an approach like that employed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, using local messengers who had relationships with the communities in question and who could communicate in less intimidating ways.
But the U.S. did not do that with COVID-19. Instead, rapidly changing information came from only a few sources, usually at the national level and seemingly without much strategy. And as such, many places have seen widespread resistance to public health interventions, like wearing masks and getting the vaccine.”
“not every issue manifests locally, with local experts able to gather people for friendly dinners. Regarding climate change, Fisher says in her work now she is finding that people are often spurred to action only when the environmental damage becomes an extreme personal risk to them and their family, and when it is seen as preventable. Part of the problem with mitigating COVID-19, she said, was that many people didn’t see the virus as a personal risk — they thought they themselves would be OK, even if so many other people were dying.”
“the danger of anti-intellectualism becoming more entwined with partisanship is that these attitudes then become more entrenched and harder to overcome. And that will become true on both sides, as each group believes they have the best sources of information — a phenomenon he called epistemic hubris. It’s damaging public debate.
The problems we’ve seen with COVID-19 are also spreading to new groups of people and to other issues. Dana Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, researches the social science of climate change, and she’s found that people are more likely to seek out sources that confirm what they already believe. “We see that scientific information is very, very clearly cherry-picked,” she said. Increasingly, she sees people looking for information that already supports their worldview, and that’s happening on the right and left. For her, this includes policymakers who have a role to play in solving issues like climate change.
The challenge is how to penetrate these bubbles.”
“support for the Republican presidential candidate has steadily grown by 12-to-15 percentage points since 2012 among white Americans who think there’s at least a moderate amount of anti-white discrimination in the U.S.”
“Meanwhile, the reverse is true among white Americans who don’t think there’s much anti-white discrimination: Support for the Republican presidential candidate has steadily dropped. The same pattern holds even after accounting for several factors that are also strongly correlated with presidential vote choice, such as partisanship, ideology and racial resentment.”
“In fact, white grievance politics now explains more than just vote choice. Sides, Vavreck and I found in a 2021 working paper that perceived anti-white discrimination increasingly predicts public opinion of people and policies connected to the former president, like Pence or repealing the Affordable Care Act. We also find that perceived anti-white discrimination is increasingly associated with Americans’ partisan attachments”
“These findings dovetail with the important research of Duke University political scientist Ashley Jardina. Her book, “White Identity Politics,” argues that white racial grievances more strongly influence political beliefs when white people perceive themselves as under threat, which is one reason why Trump was so effective in his many appeals to the cultural, economic and physical threats that they were supposedly facing. And Republican attacks on critical race theory follow the same playbook, framing its teachings as an anti-white “existential threat to the United States.””
“the committee has declined to list statues of Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet in the era of the #MeToo movement, it has become clear that his treatment of women was far from exemplary. His comments on North Vietnamese Communists reveal a blind spot toward the totalitarianism that continues to affect many Vietnamese and billions of others. Of course, these defects, like those of Washington and Lincoln, are no reason not to celebrate King’s great contributions with monuments—as Chicago has rightly done.”
“Liberal societies allow people to pursue their own projects (and, increasingly, identities). And yet even a liberal society needs some shared ties of national memory to hold people together despite their differences. The Chicago committee suggests that monuments to such a memory should either be removed entirely or be transformed into screens on which we can project contemporary grievances. In attacking the best of our forebears, Lightfoot and her committee not only make our common past a casualty of our divided present. They also threaten the foundation on which our future would be built.”
“Polarization can create the conditions for overdue reckonings, for broader coalitions. When the parties were mixed, and racially conservative whites were seen as the key swing vote, racial issues were suppressed in American politics. The passage of the Civil Rights Act is the exception that proves the rule: Civil rights laws had been blocked in Congress for decades, and the rupture required to unblock them broke the party system of that era. The polarization of the parties around race and ideology — a story I tell in detail in my book Why We’re Polarized — created an incentive for one party, at least, to prioritize issues of racial justice.
As the parties became more polarized around racial issues, it became much safer for Democratic politicians to embrace racial issues,” says Christopher Stout, a political scientist at Oregon State University and the author of Bringing Race Back In: Black Politicians, Deracialization, and Voting Behavior in the Age of Obama. “Even in 2008, there was a lot of hesitancy to talk about race. Think back to Obama and Jeremiah Wright. But as white working-class voters who were racially conservative left the Democratic Party, it created space for Democrats to talk about race and be rewarded for it rather than punished for it.
Joe Biden’s career reflects the arc of this change. As he has gotten in trouble for saying, when he entered Congress, in the 1970s, he worked often with conservative, segregationist Democrats. These weren’t just coalitions of expedience: He took positions on issues like crime and busing meant to mollify racially conservative white voters. But Biden changed alongside his party. By 2008, those Democrats were gone, and Biden was Obama’s vice president, in an administration that cemented the Democratic Party’s identity as the party of a multiethnic America.”
“Identity politics is often tossed around as a slur, an epithet. A politics of identity is said to be exclusionary, pitting Americans against each other, denying them the common ground of shared experience. This is oft-made criticism of “Black Lives Matter” as a slogan, by those who prefer “all lives matter.” But we are seeing the rebuttal to that argument in the political reality of this moment, where 91 percent of Democrats — and 92 percent of white Democrats — express support for Black Lives Matter (as do 40 percent of Republicans). A politics of identity can be inclusionary, building bridges across experiences that would otherwise remain siloed.”
“Identity is never singular. We have many identities, some of them linked together, some of them sitting in tension. The story of modern political polarization is identities fusing together: Black, Jewish, liberal, atheist, urbanite — Democrat. White, evangelical, rural, conservative, hunter — Republican. Identity fusion creates stronger bonds of solidarity between those who share identities, and can create more conflict with those who become the out-group. It is both inclusionary and exclusionary. But for groups who’ve long been marginalized, who haven’t had the power to force their concerns and their experiences to the forefront of national politics, it can be transformative.
There is no action without reaction, of course. The promise of change that thrills some Americans unnerves others. Trump is president because Obama was president. We will not suddenly find agreement on America’s oldest divides, easy redemption for our oldest sins. And our political system is designed to reflect consensus, not resolve conflict. This is why, in part, polarization is so feared: It breeds government paralysis, wanton obstruction, dangerous brinksmanship.
Even so, we should prefer the difficulties of political conflict to the injustice of suppression. Police brutality is as old as America, but it has been rare for either of our major political parties to take it seriously, much less make it — and racial inequality more broadly — central to their agendas. Change at the level America needs may not be likely, but it would be impossible if neither party was willing to fight for it. That one is beginning to do so now is the product of relentless organizing, activism, and courage among Black Americans, but it is also the product of polarization, sorting, and identity politics.”