Academics Find that Partisanship Has Become the Great Divider

New Orleans   Families everywhere in America get together for Thanksgiving.  They travel.  They honor tradition and renew bonds.  They cook and bake.  They eat too much.  They try to talk about how children have grown and how with each advancing year they miraculously haven’t aged a day.  They avoid talking about politics at the table.  According to some huge data crunching of smartphone data, it turns that most of that is still happening, but the impact of rabid partisanship enflamed by political advertising has created a wedge in families across the country.

Ok, we all wondered if this was the case.  Some of us may have suspected it.  Most of us would probably have denied it.  Now the evidence compiled by Professor Keith Chen of UCLA and Professor Ryne Rohla of Washington State reported in Science magazine makes it harder pretend that the Trump Era is not opening up even deeper fissures in families.

The professors managed a pretty amazing feat by using anonymous data from literally millions of cellphones that provided movement and location information on families.  They were able to sort out where people resided and where they journeyed for Thanksgiving and by overlaying voting data from the 2016 election they could identify Democratic precinct residents and Republican precinct leanings.  Looking at the political advertising in geographical markets, they could also tabulate the information with the precinct and dinner locations as well.  Then they compared it all against the 2015 Thanksgiving, a year before the Clinton-Trump contest.

Here’s what they found from their summary:

“…we show that Thanksgiving dinners attended by residents from opposing-party precincts were 30 to 50 minutes shorter than same-party dinners.  Reductions in the duration of Thanksgiving dinner in 2016 tripled for travelers from media markets with heavy political advertising – an effect not observed in 2015 – implying a relationship to election-related behavior.  Although fewer Democratic-precinct residents traveled in 2016 than in 2015, Republican- precinct residents shortened their Thanksgiving dinners by more minutes in response to political differences.  Nationwide, 34 million hours of cross-partisan Thanksgiving dinner discourse were lost in 2016 owing to partisan effects.”

Let’s all agree on one thing:  that can’t be good, either for families or the country.

Don’t write this off as inconsequential and something we’ll easily get past.  The professors note elsewhere in their piece the evidence that political choices at the level of such profound partisanship are a bias that casts a frighteningly wide and divisive net.  Based on other research, they write:

“Animosity towards political rivals is not limited to the ballot box; implicit partisan biases manifest in discriminatory decisions even more frequently than racial or gender biases.  Parents express intolerance of their children dating and marrying across partisan lines, and observed dating and marital choices segregate more strongly on politics than on physical attributes or personality characteristics.  Political polarization affects decisions such as where to work and shop, at higher rates than race, ethnicity, or religion.”

            This increasing division is way more important than whether we like white meat or dark, cranberry slices or berries.  We need to fix this, family to family, if we’re going to fix the country as well.

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Ending Temporary Protected Status for Hondurans This Time


Women and their children walk on the tarmac after being deported from the U.S., at the Ramon Villeda international airport in San Pedro Sula on July 14, 2014.
Women and their children walk on the tarmac after being deported from the U.S., at the Ramon Villeda international airport in San Pedro Sula on July 14, 2014.
Presidential House/Reuters

New Orleans     When you drive near the river in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and look down along the banks, you can still see signs of the hurricane that swept through the city and the country making tens of thousands homeless almost twenty years ago in 1999.  In my first trips to the city as we organized ACORN there, I could still see signs of current encampments of squatters.  Many things in San Pedro Sula, the industrial and maquila heart of Honduras, have changed in recent decades but the footprint of the hurricane’s devastation is still easy to follow there.

It is also easy to follow in the United States.  New Orleans was the city that became destination and then home to more Hondurans than any other in the United States.  I can often share stories with local business people and construction workers in my neighborhood as we tell stories of Jesus Maria, Choloma, and other working-class suburbs outside of San Pedro Sula or places near Tegucigalpa where ACORN also has numerous chapters and thousands of members.  An intern working with us during the spring semester from Tulane shared the fact that her father was from San Pedro Sula.

There have been many changes in Honduras in recent years.  Looking past the golipista coup of recent years in the recent election ACORN supported candidates and some of our members were elected as mayors or council members in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa as well as several of the suburbs of San Pedro Sula.  We have won potable water in some places.  We have gotten agreements to build community centers and pave roads.  This is real progress.  At the same time our largest campaign, especially in San Pedro Sula, we euphemistically refer to as “security,” but what we really mean is dealing with the violence, crime, gangs, and fear in many of neighborhoods.  Particularly difficult is dealing with the collateral damage of families broken apart and sending children to the border at the cost of $4 to 5000 US dollars, and then sometimes have to raise additional money when they are turned back and sent home.

The Trump administration has already ended temporary protected status or TPS as it is called for more than 300,000 people legally in the United States because of disasters, war, and other issues.  TPS has been terminated for Salvadorans, Haitians, Nepalese, and Nicaraguans already.  Now more than 80,000 Hondurans have heard that TPS is ending for them as well.  According to the Times the Center for Migration Studies says that Honduras with TPS “have 53,500 American-born children; 85% participate in the labor force, compared with 63% of the overall US population, and nearly 20% have mortgages.”  This doesn’t count the number of families in Honduras who depend on remittances from their US relatives to provide income stability.  They have until January 2020, the usual 18 months that others were given to get their affairs together and return to Honduras.

As I think about this I am preparing for a call with ACORN’s Honduran organizers to plan for the impact of families returning and in-country, but even while doing so, I have to wonder at a policy that is guaranteed no matter what the administration claims to create a whole new class of less than legal immigrants in the United States, who have been legal in the country and embedded in their communities and will now find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place somewhere between home and underground.

This won’t end well.

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