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Opinion | The Moral Chasm That Has Opened Up Between Left and Right Is Widening

Richard Hanania, president of the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology and a former research fellow at Columbia’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, argues that

Women are having more of a role to play in intellectual life, so we’re moving toward female norms regarding things like trade-offs between feelings and the search for truth. If these trends started to reverse, we could call it a “masculinization” of the culture I suppose. The male/female divide is not synonymous with right/left, as a previous generation’s leftism was much more masculine, think gender relations in communist countries or the organized labor movement in the U.S. at its peak.

The role of gender in politics has been further complicated by a controversial and counterintuitive finding set forth in “The Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education” by Gijsbert Stoet and David C. Geary, professors of psychology at Essex University and the University of Missouri.

The authors propose that:

paradoxically, countries with lower levels of gender equality had relatively more women among STEM graduates than did more gender equal countries. This is a paradox, because gender-equal countries are those that give girls and women more educational and empowerment opportunities, and generally promote girls’ and women’s engagement in STEM fields.

Assuming for the moment that this gender equality paradox is real, how does it affect politics and polarization in the United States?

In an email, Mohammad Atari, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Southern California and lead author of “Sex differences in moral judgments across 67 countries,” noted that “some would argue that in more gender-egalitarian societies men and women are more free to express their values regardless of external pressures to fit a predefined gender role,” suggesting an easing of tensions.

Pivoting from gender to race, however, the nonpartisan Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group this month issued “Racing Apart: Partisan Shifts on Racial Attitudes Over the Last Decade.” The study showed that

Democrats’ and independents’ attitudes on identity-related topics diverged significantly from Republicans’ between 2011 and 2020 — including their attitudes on racial inequality, police, the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration, and Muslims. Most of this divergence derives from shifts among Democrats, who have grown much more liberal over this period.

The murder of George Floyd produced a burst of racial empathy, Robert Griffin, Mayesha Quasem, John Sides and Michael Tesler wrote, but they note that poll data suggests “this shift in attitudes was largely temporary. Weekly surveys from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project show that any aggregate changes had mostly evaporated by January 2021.”

Additional evidence suggests that partisan hostility between Democrats and Republicans is steadily worsening. In their August 2021 paper, “Cross-Country Trends in Affective Polarization,” Levi Boxell and Matthew Gentzkow, both economists at Stanford University, and Jesse M. Shapiro, a professor of political economy at Brown, wrote:

In 1978, according to our calculations, the average partisan rated in-party members 27.4 points higher than out-party members on a “feeling thermometer” ranging from 0 to 100. In 2020 the difference was 56.3, implying an increase of 1.08 standard deviations.

Their conclusion is that over the past four decades, “the United States experienced the most rapid growth in affective polarization among the 12 O.E.C.D. countries we consider” — the other 11 are France, Sweden, Germany, Britain, Norway, Denmark, Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland.

In other words, whether we evaluate the current conflict-ridden political climate in terms of moral foundations theory, feminism or the political group conflict hypothesis, the trends are not favorable, especially if the outcome of the 2024 presidential election is close.

If the continuing anger, resentment and denial among Republicans in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential contest are precursors of the next election, current trends, in combination with the politicization of election administration by Republican state legislatures, suggest that the loser in 2024, Republican or Democratic, will not take defeat lying down.

The forces fracturing the political system are clearly stronger than the forces pushing for consensus.

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