Fighting Phantoms: Disagreement vs. Disdain in the American Body Politic

Monday, April 3, 2023 (3:30 PM – 5:00 PM)

Eli Finkel

Professor of Psychology
Kellogg School of Management
Northwestern University

According to legend, Ben Franklin informed a Philadelphia lady in 1787 that the Constitutional Convention had created a republic rather than a monarchy—“if you can keep it.” But what can individual citizens do to “keep” a republic? In his Farewell Address nine years later, George Washington offered a potential answer: resist extreme partisanship.

This presentation considers whether partisanship in America today poses a threat to the Republic. Ideological and policy disagreement among American partisans is modest, but feelings toward opposing partisans is curdling from dislike into hatred. A major foundation for this hatred is a distorted perception of opposing partisans, which means that we may be fighting phantoms rather than adversaries.

There are many ways to mitigate the most corrosive elements of our politics, but they will be difficult to implement insofar as we—the individuals who make up America’s body politic—prize partisan victory over democratic norms.

If you would like to meet with the speaker, please click here to contact Rachael Hamilton.