Our first post on our first day back online should really be about politics. After all, the US elections are all over the news both in the U.S. and in France.
Many of those who have experienced life in Europe, (France in particular) and in the United-States have undoubtedly noticed that the Europeans tend to be more outspoken about their political views. As much as the French will not talk easily in public about their religious beliefs (probably a trauma of centuries of religious wars and tensions), they will be glad to offer their - sometimes unsolicited- political views to their friends, neighbors, and colleagues
The French will particularly even enjoy it if they can find someone who disagrees with them. And the debate will become a sparring match whose point may not be so much to win over their partner but to find the best and most logical arguments.
In North America, however, politics will quickly become a personal matter which is probably why people will mostly express their political views mostly where it’s safe, i.e. with people they agree with or else they’ll avoid them altogether with people they disagree with.
What I have known from experience has actually been confirmed by a study. It was carried out in 12 countries and it shows that “Americans are the least likely of all to talk about politics with those who disagreed with them.” (The Economist)
Why is that? The Economist suggests that it is because “Americans are ever less exposed to contrary views” than others. Why? Because “Americans are increasingly choosing to live among like-minded neighbors which makes the culture war more bitter and politics harder.” It seems that more and more Americans choose a neighborhood for being in accord with their political views.
That, plus home-schooling, plus increasingly ideological television shows (no matter “fair and balance” they claim to be!), plus the Internet which can easily be used by picking and choosing sites that will only to re-enforce pre-existing biased views have increased the political divide in America.
What is the consequence? A more divided country with more extreme views and more partisanship.
Studies suggest that when a group is ideologically homogeneous, its members tend to grow more extreme. Even clever, fair-minded people are not immune. Cass Sunstein and David Schkade, two academics, found that Republican-appointed judges vote more conservatively when sitting on a panel with other Republicans than when sitting with Democrats. Democratic judges become more liberal when on the bench with fellow Democrats.
Voters in landslide districts tend to elect more extreme members of Congress. Moderates who might otherwise run for office decide not to. Debates turn into shouting matches. Bitterly partisan lawmakers cannot reach the necessary consensus to fix long-term problems such as the tottering pensions and health-care systems.
But why is it so different in Europe then? Well, first, Europeans are not as mobile as Americans and European neighborhoods tend to be divided along economic lines rather than political ones.
I would also suggest that contrary to Europe, politics in America has been increasingly linked to culture and values, which are much more personal. Politics is not any longer about the different (and sometimes opposite) “methods used to formulate and apply policy” with the goal of bettering the community or providing for the self-fulfillment of individuals. It has become something about values which are (perceived to be) at the core of one’s identity.Therefore rejecting someone’s political views in America may be construed as a rejection of them, of who they are. That is the risk many Europeans take when they engage Americans in political discussions, but many of them are clueless about it.