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.


Can We Get Hollywood, Educators & Politicians to Watch More Danish TV?

New Orleans   Being home for a short spell, as a treat we’ve been watching some television before the lights go off.  Recently, we’ve been catching an episode on an almost nightly basis of “Rita,” a series on Danish television about an anti-authoritarian, but deeply committed and wildly popular school teacher.   Last year, I watched several seasons of the Danish series, “Borgen,” about the rise and reign of a woman as Prime Minister in Denmark, which many commentators have argued is perhaps the best inside-politics television show ever.  What’s up with Danish television that they are making such strides at examining real life concerns about education and public life while we’re having to deal with debates about the future of Kevin Spacey and the politics of Roseanne Barr?

Rita is an early 40’s single teacher with an active libido and a unique parenting style as a single mother with three children.  She’s no porcelain doll, but a mass of contradictions and hard edges around a soft heart, especially for her children and many of the school’s misfits.  The show is subversive in the way it looks at Danish mores and social institutions.  Of course, teachers, especially Rita, are the stars of this show, but they are real people.  One young teacher is constantly confronted with the problems of her theories and putting them in practice.  A senior teacher retires rather than confront student bullying in his classroom.  Principles are bureaucrats, but not outside of the struggle to educate.  Students have real issues and difficult school and social challenges.

Interestingly to me, parents are most often presented as the obstacles in both the school’s educational mission and the maturation and education of their own children.  If there’s one enemy in this show, it’s often parents.  They squabble.  They are too precious in their concerns, whether about vegetarians and animal protection, or wild demands for promotion and protection of their children up to the point of bullying.  The state social system and other institutions like even the teachers’ own union and its contract, come in for ongoing critiques as rigid and unbending in being able to deal with individual issues for children and families.

“Borgen” is a compelling drama of backroom political tensions grounded in parties and personalities as much as policies.  We struggle through the strengths and weaknesses of real life politicians including our heroine, a woman who rises in a center-left coalition to become the first woman prime minister of Denmark.  In “Borgen” we see the real struggles between advisors and between politicians and their staffs, especially the modern rise of the powerful combination communications-policy adviser in much more realistic terms than the darkness that surrounds “House of Cards,” especially the original British version.

I love Roseanne Barr.  She spoke at ACORN Conventions.  She and Michael Moore worked in Florida during the minimum wage campaign in the Kerry-Bush election.  I wish her absolutely nothing but the best.  I wish she would watch “Rita” and bring her power and demand for change for the voiceless to issues in some of the same ways.

Beau Williamson brought his own political experience working in liberal political campaigns to his retooling of “House of Cards.”  I’ve visited with him.  He’s a progressive with skin-in-the-game of the resistance.  I would be shocked if he hasn’t watched “Borgen” and taken notes.  He’s onto other projects, but in the last season of “House of Cards” needing something to fill the vacuum of Spacey’s departure, it would be wonderful to have him go more “Borgen” in the final act.

Just a prayer from a fan being offered up to the lords of Hollywood to learn something from an unexpected source in the wee country of Denmark where television is being rewritten in human terms.