Share

cover art for Pushing Back Against Polarization: The Village Square. Liz Joyner

How Do We Fix It?

Pushing Back Against Polarization: The Village Square. Liz Joyner

Ep. 377

One way to help solve America's polarization crisis is to hang out with someone not like you. Someone who sees the world differently or comes from a cultural background, social class, racial or ethnic group other than your own.


While social media, political elites and national news outlets profit from polarization, the rest of us do not. This episode looks at one highly successful local initiative to push back against the conflict entrepreneurs who want to make us angry, fearful and divided.


Our guest is Liz Joyner, founder and President of The Village Square, a non-profit based in Tallahassee, Florida, dedicated to reviving civic connections across divisions inside American communities. For the past 17 years she's been the leader of an organization that describes itself as "a nervy bunch of liberals and conservatives who believe that dialogue and disagreement make for a good conversation, a good country and a good time"


Most of us live in neighborhoods and among friends who think like us, especially about politics. That’s a problem because not only are we divided, but don’t understand the other side. The number of people who say our country is headed in the wrong direction has remained very high throughout most of the past decade.


Liz believes that with the help of food and a sense of humor all kinds of people can be in the same room. They don't have to agree, but in many cases she says, Americans are not as divided as we think. "We disagree in soundbites that professional polarizers are working to divide us over, but in paragraphs we agree way more than we think we do," she tells us.


As for the polarizers? "l think they're playing us all, and we ought to be done with them," Liz tells us. The Village Square has organized dozens of public events, ranging from a few dozen people to audiences of more than a thousand breaking bread and enjoying a lively conversation.


Recommendation: Jim is reading "The Matter of Everything" by physicist and science communicator Dr. Suzie Sheehy. The book is a journey through the experiments that not only unlocked the nature of matter and shaped our understanding of the cosmos, but also changed the way we live.


Bonus Recommendation: Jim enjoys listening to The Glenn Show podcast with economist Glenn Loury.

More episodes

View all episodes

  • The Case For Ranked Choice Voting. Rob Richie

    27:18
    Supporters of Ranked Choice Voting argue that we need to a big change how we vote. Our “choose-one” elections, they say, deprive voters of meaningful choices, create increasingly toxic campaign cycles, advance candidates who lack broad support and leave voters feeling like our voices are not heard. We examine the case for this form of proportional representation. Ranked Choice Voting could boost electoral turnout, reduce polarization, and cut the public cost of running elections. This relatively new reform is now being used in dozens of states, cities and counties. In 2022, Alaska implemented ranked-choice voting for the first time after a referendum revamped its elections.Our guest, Rob Richie is cofounder and senior analyst at FairVote, makes the case for how it works and why RCV is a viable way to improve electoral politics. Right now, he says, we are in this "incredibly intense winner-take-all environment" in most states. Ranked-choice voting could change the equation.Instead of picking just one candidate, voters rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice: first, second, third and so on. If your first-choice candidate is in last place, your vote counts for your highest-ranked candidate who can win by getting more than 50%. RCV removes voters' concerns that their favored candidate could split the vote.Most Americans agree Congress is not working. Retiring Senators Mitt Romney (Republican - Utah) and Joe Manchin (Democrat - West Virginia) are outspoken supporters of Ranked Choice Voting. “Every incentive in Washington is designed to make politics extreme,” says Manchin. “The growing divide between Democrats and Republicans is paralyzing Congress and worsening our nation’s problems.”
  • Refuge: A Unique Strength of Liberalism: Professor Bryan Garsten

    33:14
    Liberalism is out of fashion. You might say that it's under siege. From the populist right to the progressive left, liberal touchtones of limited government, personal freedom, the rule of law, and a mixed economy have come in for harsh criticism.Liberalism is assailed by many critics, but it has not failed, argues Yale Political Science Professor Bryan Garsten. "A liberal society is unique in that it offers refuge from the very people it empowers" through "institutions and different political parties. This allows the rest of us to live undisturbed," he says. Supporters argue that this form of liberty most clearly elevates the liberal project. In addition to his research and teaching, Garsten has written recent op-eds for The New York Times. His books include “Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgement” and a collection of essays he edited about Rousseau and the Age of Enlightenment. This episode is published with assistance from The Journal of Democracy. We are grateful. The most recent print issue includes essays by five authors, who grapple with questions of liberalism's lasting relevance and its challenges for the future. Our interview features a lively discussion about the difference between liberal thought and other "isms" such as neoliberalism, libertarianism and progressivism. We learn more about the importance of community, the limits of individual freedom, and why liberal societies do not produce refugees— arguably another unique source of strength.Professor Garsten is also skeptical of some aspects of modern liberalism. "I think there's a certain language that liberals use, of science, rights and progress which sometimes has been hijacked to justify elite overreach in imposing a vision of the world onto many people of different views," he tells us. "I offer the language of refuge as an alternative way to get at what's morally admirable in liberal societies."Recommendation: Richard has just read the new book by journalist and TV commentator, Fareed Zakaria: "Age of Revolutions. Progress and Backlash From 1600 to the Present."
  • The Collapse of Local News and How to Rebuild Regional Journalism: Anna Brugmann

    23:45
    In much of the country local news has collapsed, threatening civic pride and a sense of community for countless towns and cities. This dramatic change has also deepened America's divides.As our guest, journalist and public policy researcher Anna Brugmann explains in this episode, "the internet disrupted the local journalism model". Newspaper advertising revenue fell 80% since 2000. Thousands of local and regional publications closed. Most surviving newsrooms faced drastic cutbacks. Coverage of all kinds of local events— from city hall, school board meetings and football games to local businesses and zoning decisions — disappeared.First, Craigslist displaced print-based classified ads. Then Google, Facebook and other online firms became the main source of consumer advertising. We discuss the impact on local journalism. In recent decades, the news we read and listen to has largely shifted from local reporting to often highly polarizing national opinion journalism.In the first of two episodes on the changing face of the news media, we look at the retreat of local journalism and discuss solutions. These include non-profit media and changes in for-profit business models. Today, many newspapers get more revenue from subscriptions and fundraising drives than from advertising. We ask: how sustainable are these initiatives?Anna Brugmann is policy director for the advocacy organization, Rebuild Local News. According to her group, since 2004, as the U.S. population has grown, the number of newsroom employees has dropped by 57%."By almost every metric by which you measure a healthy community and a healthy democracy, the trends are in the wrong direction when local news leaves," says Anna. "In the past twenty years more than two thousands newspapers have closed in The United States."Recommendation: Jim is listening to a lot of podcasts since he unplugged his TV and stopped watching broadcast and cable news. Among his current favorite podcasts is "The Reeducation With Eli Lake". The show "challenges the common narratives the mainstream media and others push".
  • Diversity Is Great. DEI Isn't. Amna Khalid and Jeff Snyder

    35:30
    Diversity equity and inclusion: Sounds like a good thing in an incredibly diverse country such as ours, especially when teaching young people at American colleges and universities.But the DEI industry - or DEI Inc. — has arguably gone off the rails. There’s a big difference between the intentions behind a lot of diversity training and the results. We learn about the crucial difference between training and education, and hear the case against the Stop WOKE Act in Florida.History professors Amna Khalid and Jeff Snyder share their deep concerns about a growing industry. There is no reliable evidence that diversity, equity and inclusion training sessions at colleges, non-profits, and large corporations actually work. In many places, DEI could be making things worse, imposing an ideological litmus test and encouraging cynicism and dishonesty at places of learning.Amna specializes in modern South Asian history, the history of medicine and the global history of free expression. Growing up under a series of military dictatorships in Pakistan, she has a strong interest in issues relating to free speech.Jeff is also a Professor at Carleton: A historian of education, who studies questions of race, national identity and the purpose of public education in a diverse, democratic society. He’s the author of Making Black History: The Color Line, Culture and Race in the Age of Jim Crow.  Jeff and Amna released this YouTube video about DEI. They speak regularly together about academic freedom, free speech and campus politics at colleges and universities. They also write frequently on these issues for newspapers and magazines, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Republic and The Washington Post. Amna hosts a podcast and blog called “Banished,” which explores censorship controversies in the past and present. Recommendation: Richard has been watching "Nada" on Hulu, a gentle and funny TV series from Argentina about a food critic in Buenos Aires and his observations on life and eating.
  • Politics: Majority In The Middle. Shannon Watson

    29:35
    News coverage of Super Tuesday and other party primaries focused mainly on base voters— Democrats and Republicans. But most Americans are actually on the political sidelines or somewhere in the middle. Many have a mix of conservative and liberal views.This episode is about them. Our guest is Shannon Watson, the Founder and Executive Director of Majority in the Middle. Her Minnesota-based non-profit group works to give voters and elected officials a place to gather outside the extremes. "We try to elevate the people who are demonstrating the behavior we want to see", Shannon tells us. "When it's only the rabble-rousers who get the coverage then there is an incentive to be one of them." Majority in the Middle also promotes structural changes in governing that will remove barriers to cooperation across the political aisle. While the two parties have a stranglehold on many aspects of elections and governance, record numbers of Americans no longer register as Republican or Democrat. They prefer the label "independent". At the same time, the right and left have changed. Among pro-Trump conservatives, we see a decline in support for free trade and military spending to help traditional allies. The former president has also resisted calls to limit spending on Medicare and social security.Younger Democrats are much less likely to support Israel. The rise of identity politics has also pushed the party to the left.While we've always had partisan division the level of vitriol can obscure the fact that Americans are much more closely aligned on issues such as gun rights, abortion, and immigration than we are led to believe."Not all Democrats agree with all Democrats, and not all Republicans agree with all Republicans," says Shannon Watson.Our podcast conversation mentions the Political Typology Quiz, conducted by Pew Research Center. Polling of more than 10,000 U.S. adults showed that while partisan polarization remains a dominant fact of political life, "the gulf that separates Republicans and Democrats sometimes obscures the divisions and diversity of views that exist within both partisan coalitions – and the fact that many Americans do not fit easily into either one."You can take the Typology Quiz here and see your personal views fit in with nine broad categories of left and right. Recommendation: Jim enjoyed reading "The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder", by David Grann. Our co-host has had a long fascination with survival and exploration stories. He calls this non-fiction book "a ripping read and a fascinating story."
  • Changing Journalism: Boosting Trust in the News Media. Joy Mayer

    26:05
    Only four-in-ten Americans say they have a lot of trust in the news media. That's a big problem for our democracy, especially in this volatile presidential election year. While journalists are supposed to tell the truth and get the story right, just 35% of right-of-center voters have some trust in what they see on the news.Democrats and independents are much more likely to trust journalists, but Americans of almost all shades of opinion are skeptical of the journalists, not only questioning the quality of their work but the intentions behind it.Our guest is Joy Mayer, Director of the non-profit group, Trusting News, which has partnered with many local newsrooms around the country to help journalists earn consumers' trust.While many reporters, writers and editors are reluctant to discuss their politics, most journalists have liberal or progressive views. "I think it's something we need to talk about more openly," Joy tells us.In this episode, we look at bias, transparency, and constructive steps that the newsrooms can take to improve their reputation with a broad cross-section of Americans.We first recorded our interview with Joy in the late summer of 2021. Since then polling shows that the gulf between many journalists and their readers, listeners, and viewers is as wide as ever.Americans of all political views are switching off the news. Audiences are shrinking for local TV stations, most newspapers and public radio, even as they release podcasts, email newsletters and other newer forms of content. Polling by Pew Research found that more than half of journalists surveyed say every side does not always deserve equal coverage in the news. But three-quarters of the public say journalists should always strive to give all sides equal coverage.Recommendation: Richard has just finished watching the first two seasons of "Dark Winds", a TV thriller and crime drama set on a Navajo Indian reservation in the southwest. Almost all of the actors and crew are native americans. Richard says: "This series is beautiful, exciting and compelling. The acting is first rate The scenery alone is reason enough to watch it."
  • Ideas For Everyone: The Virtues of a Liberal Education. Roosevelt Montás

    30:06
    What is the point of a good education? Do we need it to learn a narrow set of skills ro help us get ahead in the workplace, or should knowledge and learning to be used over a lifetime to acquire wisdom that enables us to think more deeply about our place in the world?This question has profound resonance at a time of angry divides over American politics and moral confusion at elite American universities. The President of Harvard, Claudine Gay, resigned after months of campus unrest and controversy. In December, Gay and two other university presidents faced widespread criticism for their testimony at Congressional hearings about antisemitism on their campuses.In this episode, we hear from an university educator who makes the case for liberal education that gives students the tools needed to have a deeper sense of purpose. Roosevelt Montás is the author of "Rescuing Socrates: How The Great Books Changed My Life And Why They Matter For a New Generation".He believes that the ideas and writings of Plato, Socrates, Shakespeare, Ghandi and many others aren't just for a few privileged students. They're for everybody, and that encountering these thinkers as a poor immigrant teenager changed his life.Montás is senior lecturer in American Studies and English at Columbia University, and director of the Center for American Studies Freedom and Citizenship Program, which introduces low-income high school students to primary texts in moral and political thought, as well as seminars in American Studies including “Freedom and Citizenship in the United States.” From 2008 to 2018, he was director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum."There is a prevailing cultural attitude that liberal education— the study of literature and philosophy — is appropriate only to the elite," Roosevelt tells us. "That is a really pernicious idea." He argues that the students who benefit the most from the foundational wisdom in the "great books" come from poor and marginalized backgrounds.Recommendation: Richard watched and greatly enjoyed the Anglo-Japanese Netflix TV series, "Giri / Haji", — duty/shame in Japanese— a thriller about a Tokyo detective scouring the London underworld to find his allegedly deceased brother. The series was filmed in Tokyo and London. 
  • What Could Go Right? 2024 Predictions Show

    26:09
    From the economy and prospects for a Biden vs Trump rematch to the future for global energy and artificial intelligence, Richard and Jim make their forecasts for 2024. And we re-visit our predictions from exactly a year ago and report on precisely how we did. "It's sort of like weather forecasters and opinion pollsters going back and owning up to their mistakes," says Richard. "I mean, who often do we see that!"Once again, Meigs and Davies make their best guesses about what's to come this year. Will Donald Trump maintain his slim lead in the polls over President Biden? Is there a much higher risk than most experts expect for energy supplies during the winter months? How big are the chances for a wider war in the Middle East?Fresh off his A+ forecast on the 2023 economy, when Richard out-forecasted the overwhelming majority of experts, we'll get more predictions about this year. Don't make any more investments without hearing this episode!Jim, who writes with perception and foresight about nuclear power and our frayed power grid, will share his updated insights on the year to come for energy, and attempts to cut carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere. We also hear about the migration crisis on the Southern border, the long frustrating retreat of COVID, and the grim outlook for the war in Ukraine. As usual, both hosts share some surprising opinions and air a few lively disagreements.Read Jim's new article in City Journal, "Where Now For Nuclear Power".Listen to our sister show "Let's Find Common Ground". Here's their latest episode with Christian Science Monitor Editor, Mark Sappenfield.
  • How to Escape The Identity Trap - Yascha Mounk (part two)

    31:48
    We continue our discussion with Yascha Mounk, one of the leading public intellectuals of our time. The subject is a hugely influential ideology that attempts to put racial, sexual and gender identity at the center of our social, cultural and political life. The "identity synthesis", Mounk argues, denies that members of different groups can truly understand one another and this stifles public discourse.In this podcast episode, we learn why an obsession with identity undermines social justice, fuels culture wars, and boosts hateful hardliners on the right and left— from Donald Trump to protesters who support Hamas and its murderous attacks on Israeli civilians. We also hear how to politely but firmly push back against those who have become ensnared in "The Identity Trap," the name of Yascha Mounk's new book."Categories like race and gender and sexual orientation help to explain what's going on in the world, but they're not the only categories that help to explain it," Mounk tells us. "There's also social class, religion and patriotism as well as individual actions, attributes and aspirations.""The Identity Trap" has been called "the most ambitious and comprehensive account to date of the origins, consequences and limitations" of "wokeness". In our last episode, Yascha Mounk explained how postmodernism, postcolonialism and critical race theory gained currency on many college campuses by 2020. Today, a simplified version of these ideas exerts a strong influence in business, government and media. In this episode, Mounk urges listeners to claim the moral high ground. "Don’t apologize about arguing against a worldview that emphasizes identity to the exclusion of other factors". Recognize we have genuine disagreements but argue for convictions that you believe will result in a better world. People are open to persuasion, he says.Mounk mentions two of the most effective critics of the identity ideology were once very drawn to it: Maurice Mitchell of the Working Families Party and interfaith organizer, Eboo Patel.Recommendation: Richard has just read "The Speech", by Gary Younge, who writes for the Guardian and The Nation. His book is the story behind Martin Luther King Jr.'s powerful "I have a Dream" speech delivered to a vast audience in 1963.