This week, the University of Virginia Center for Politics released a poll surveying Americans’ feelings about their political opponents. According to the poll, 80% of Biden voters and 84% of Trump voters believed that elected officials of the opposite party present a “clear and present danger to American democracy”; 78% of Biden voters believed that the Republican Party wanted to eliminate the influence of “progressive values” in American life, while 87% of Trump voters believed that the Democrats wanted to eliminate “traditional values”; 75% of Biden voters and 78% of Trump voters believed that the opposing party’s supporters were a “clear and present danger to the American way of life.”
These statistics are, of course, alarming. The popular theory these days is that willingness by both Democrats and Republicans to abandon democratic norms — election result acceptance, checks and balances, due process of law and all the rest — is purely the result of reactionary dislike. If you fear your neighbor is going to abuse the process, you’d be a fool to stick to the process — and the more we dislike our neighbors, the more we fear that they’ll take advantage of us.
But is this theory correct? Is polarization actually the reason for increased willingness to ditch democratic norms?
This makes a certain amount of logical and correlative sense. The Founding Fathers had a particular vision of human nature, believing human beings were capable of great things but were also rife with sin and corruption. Given the variability of human nature, epistemic humility — a recognition that human beings are often wrong — would be necessary. And that epistemic humility would translate into a desire for liberty. High-level government, in this view, would be hamstrung from cramming down a unitary form of virtue on a pluralistic society, at least; subsidiarity, in which local communities governed themselves while the federal government maintained certain basic norms, would be the proper approach. The federal government would be pitted against itself through checks and balances, creating obstacles that would necessitate broad agreement about use of power to legitimize such use of power.
Perhaps the first step toward fixing our newfound dislike for democratic norms is to re-inculcate not love of neighbor, but understanding of human flaws, human foibles and the limits of human understanding. Perhaps we ought to start with some epistemic humility. From that source, perhaps a renewal of democratic norms and an embrace of our neighbors might spring.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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