How to Coax Tea Party Citizens Away from Resentment

A review of Strangers in Their Own Land:
Anger and Mourning on the American Right
(Authors: Arlie Russell Hochschild)

Having the goal of creating a “bipartisan” online educational resource that non-degreed adults will want to visit, my intuition has been that ordinary conservatives will be warier than ordinary liberals. And that it often may not be effective to appeal to such conservatives with rational arguments, data, and expert opinion. This book tends to confirm my fears.

Via a huge number of interviews with (mostly) Tea Party conservatives in Louisiana from 2010 to 2014, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild put together the “deep story” that articulates how these citizens see the world and their place in it. In a nutshell, it revolves around the idea of “cutting in line”: they have been enduring and working for the American Dream, but if anything they’ve been backsliding, while other groups—minorities, civil servants, women, and so forth—have been cutting in line ahead of them. They don’t think anyone (including themselves) should be getting handouts, and they put the blame squarely on a bloated federal government that doesn’t share their values. Hochschild summarizes:

Is Democracy as Bad as Achen and Bartels Say It Is?

A Review of Democracy for Realists:
Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government
(Authors: Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels)

We all know already that our democratic system today has its flaws. To hear the political scientists Achen and Bartels talk, though, you might think it’s a giant farce.

(It’s not that A&B don’t bring out big, important problems, and their research and scholarship is really impressive. Their goal, it should be admitted, is less about suggesting fixes to our democracy and more about how the research in their field ought to change. In a nutshell, here is the academic side of it: their methodological proposal is to focus the research more on group identity, and to move away from the rational individual assumption that was borrowed from 20th century economics thought.)

The centerpiece of their analysis is what they call the “folk theory” of democracy:

US Government Paralysis and the Context of World History

A review of Political Order and Political Decay:
From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy
(Authors: Francis Fukuyama)

It would be so great if everyone in the country read this book. It really ratchets-up one’s perspective on our government and its strengths and weaknesses.

Fukuyama describes a number of major historical transitions in political institutions that have taken place across diverse societies around the world:

• from band-level to tribal-level societies
• from tribal-level societies to states
o where a state is defined as a hierarchical, centralized organization that holds a monopoly on legitimate force over a defined territory
• from patrimonial to modern states