tv WSJ at Large With Gerry Baker FOX Business April 6, 2019 9:30am-10:00am EDT
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troubling. not mr. biden's necessarily curious habits, but that our current political and media culture means we seem to spend so much time now obsessing over things like this. for the record, i've met mr. biden ones or twice, and he definitely has pressed my flesh. indeed, meeting joe biden for a man or woman, is a little like an encounter with an especially attentive and curious octopus. one tent call grips your uppers. let me just offer a quick disclaimer, this isn't meant to minimize sexual harassment, and women are absolutely right to demand accountability for powerful men and women who abuse their position. but please, joe biden isn't a monster. he's an overly textile accept to yes marijuana who likes to get up close and personal with literally everyone he meets. but this is just one symptom
now, i think, of the malaise in our public discourse which goes deep and wide. it's in the trivialization of serious issues, the seething mutual contempt for an to opposing voice, the rancor that suffuses discussion or of even the least consequential of topics, the wild con spear -- and yes, of course, the president with his adolescent taunting contributes to all of this. he's not alone are, of course, but as a leader, he does have a unique responsibility. how do we restore reason to our public debate? well, someone with an idea is arthur brooks, president of the american enterprise institute, a conservative think tank in washington, and he's author of a new book, "lo your enemies: how decent people can save america from the culture of contempt." arthur, thank you very much for joining us. >> thank you, gerry.
gerry: tell us what caused you to write a book in the current political climate about the problem of contempt. >> well, two years before the contentious 2016 presidential election, i was doing a speech in new hampshire. i do a lot of talks, about 175 a year, as a matter of fact, to all different groups, you know, left-wing college campuses and right-wing political organizations, i talk to everybody, and i like it. i was talking to the latter category in a conservative activist rally, about 700 activists, and i was giving a talk. i was the only speaker not running for president that day. there were about 14, and i thought to myself, what can i do that is different than everybody else today. and they were doing what politicians always do, they get in front of a very sympathetic all of a sudden yeps, and they get out and say, you're right. and the people who aren't here, the liberals, they're stupid and evil. and, by the way, this happens on both sides. if you're a liberal, the opposite. so i stopped and i said -- as a conservative, i said i know you agree with me, but let's think for a minute about the people
who don't agree with us, progressives, liberals. remember, they're not stupid and they're not evil. they're simply americans who disagree with us, and our job is to persuade them with love. and there's no applause. [laughter] but a moment later -- gerry: were you really expecting any? >> well, a few minutes later the applause line came because a lady said i think they're stupid and evil, from the audience. i felt a little miffed, but that made me think. it was kind of an epiphany for me. i come from seattle, washington, the united states' most progressive city. my mother's an artist, my father's a college professor. i'm the black sheep of the family, and that lady was saying that my mother is stupid and evil. i thought to myself, what has happened to this country where a total stranger can say to another that your family members are stupid and evil? in fact, everybody watching this program today loves somebody with whom they disagree politically, and yet there's an
outrage industrial complex that's trying to make us hate each other. that's the beginning of this book. gerry: how did we get here? >> we got here -- well, or there's a lot of different theories about this, but one of them is this political scientists talk about something called motive attribution asymmetry. it's a fancy way to get tenure, is what that is. [laughter] basically, the whole idea is when you have two warring parties, ideologically or literally warring parties, and both sides think that they're motivated by love, but the other side is motivated by hatred for them. this is what you see in the palestinian/israeli conflict. but we have seen for the very first time that the level of motive attribution asymmetry between democrats and republicans is as high as between israelis and palestinians. this happens typically in the wake of financial crises was there's at lot of envy, a lot of competition for resources, where populist politicians step into the breach with, and they always have the same message.
somebody's got your stuff, and i'm going to get it back. gerry: but this has been going on for a while, right? it seems to be getting steadily worse over 30 years or so, is that right? >> well, there have been problems for 30 years, but really this has been since the 2008 -- gerry: so you can trace it back to -- >> you really can, yeah. that's when populism starts is after a financial crisis. it's not after a normal recession, but after a financial crisis where for ten years the fruits of economic growth typically only go to the top 20% of the distribution. and that changes our cull orture -- culture. gerry: we have had periods in the past, and we have come through this. especially journalists think it's the worst it's ever been, but you can go back to the days when people were taking lumps out of each other -- >> quite literally. >> alexander hamilton and aaron burr ended up in a duel which only one of them survived. there's been this fierce political tension and cop tempt for -- contempt for each other.
how have we overcome those periods in the past? >> herely, in a lot of case cans -- poorly, in a lot of cases. we know how the 1850s ended. now, i don't think we're at risk of a civil war. our institutions are too strong at this point. but the whole idea that you could go for decades where neighbor hates neighbor, the problem with that today is not that a shooting war will start, although if you're on twitter, you could be led to believe that we're seven minutes away from a shooting war. the problem is we can't make progress. look, this is a very dangerous world. this is a moment in which the united states needs more economic progress and, indeed, we need to be a gift to the world because our values of democratic capitalism is what the world needs. and when we're fighting with each other, unable to make legislative or social progress because of this, we're doing harm to ourselves and others. gerry: how much is technology, social media exacerbating this? >> a lot. social media, for the first time, is playing a major role in the way that we talk to each other, the way that we express
not anger, but contempt in a very big way because of anonymity. and we see the president of the united states who largely expresses himself to the public via twitter in 140 characters. nobody's ever seen anything like this, and we're not in the period in the way we use social media where we know how to use it constructively. the promise of social media overcoming our trouble has led to the second face which is the dystopian face where technology substitutes for real human relationships and degrades those relationships. we'll get ultimately to the third phase where it becomes a complement, we know how to use it responsibly, but in phase two right now and making it worse. gerry: i want to take a quick break and talk about some of the other causes of this extraordinary climate of contempt that we live in, and i'll be asking strategists from both the democratic and republican parties whether civility can return to the public discourse. stay with us. stay with us. ♪ six months, six pushups ready.
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gerry: a lot of people watching the shw will say it's all well and good to rail against both sides, but a lot of the media has for a very, very long time been monolithically on one side of the political plate, and that's made people angry because they've been told by a lot of media organizations one side of the story for a long time, and they're responding to that. there is something to that, isn't there? it's understandable that people have contempt for one particular side of the story. >> a lot of institutions have fomented contempt, and one of the key points i make in the book is 93% of us hate how divided we have become as a country. why? because it's not a habit, it's a way of life. and there are people on both sides, but particularly on one, there are institutions like academia, the entertainment industry, there are politicians who are actually getting famous and powerful and rich by telling us that we should hate our
neighbors. which is, by the way, very impractical. nobody in history has ever been insulted into agreement. so everybody watching us who wants to be more persuasive needs to be more contemptuous. less contemptuous. gerry: how do we start to break down these barriers that have built up? you say it's as bad as, you know, sentiment as between the israelis and palestinians. >> yeah. we have to recognize the problems we have politically are not like the palestinians and israelis. we basically have political differences. they're big, but they're political differences nonetheless. and that means having a realistic view about what's going on is a good way to start. the other point is that when we feel contempt, ordinarily it's because we've been treated with contempt. and this is actually a major opportunity for each of us. this is a book that's really a self-improvement book about how each of us when treated with contempt, we can answer with greater respect and love. not severalty. that's a garbage standard. --
civility. that's not what i'm talking about. it's love. each one of us has the opportunity to answer contempt with love and respect. and in so doing, what the guarantee is -- and i've got the science and the neuroscience and the social science in this book -- if you answer contempt with love and respect, you will change at least one heart, which you'll be happier, more per sweasive, and you will be the beginning of trying to knit the country back together. gerry: this is a religious phenomenon, isn't it? love your enemies. coming up to easter, the fundamental message of jesus -- >> it was the subversive message of jesus 2,000 years ago, and indeed, it's always the subversive message. of martin luther king, but more to the point, it was the same message that dale carnegie had when he was trying to help knit america back together in the wake of the american civil war. that was the civic religion of self-improvement. that's the american way. if we want to make the country better today, it starts with each one of us and a revolution in our hearts.
gerry: you talk about some examples of people actually coming together, i mean, physically coming together and breaking down these technological barriers. give an example of how that can work. >> when we actually get outside of the bubbles that we put ourselves in, the silos of our social media and the media that we watch to scratch our own itch to say we're right and the other side is stupid. and we look at people from the other side. >> where you're not -- go where you're not invited, is say things people won't expect. that's the guarantee. gerry: i'll be right back with strategists from both the democrat and republican parties asking them what it's going to take to change the tenor of politics in america. don't go away. ♪ ♪ ♪ limu emu & doug what do all these people have in common, limu?
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gerri: joining me now, president of the public affairs similar evan seeing freed and democratic separated gist basil smiegel. basil, if i start with you, how to we manage to have a leily,, lively, important, substantive political debate in which we can take some of -- we can take the poison out of it? >> well, i think first and foremost, stay off of social media. [laughter] i think what that does is it hats -- gerry: you can follow me on twitter and instagram. >> following people is one thing, debating them on social media is another story because that ends up driving people really the their core beliefs and to the extremes without having the ability to have a good exchange of ideas. and i think, honestly, being courageous enough, if i can say this, to go to places that are uncomfortable and have meaningful conversations with
people about sort of your shared interests. we're not doing that enough. and, certainly, because of the way our lines are drawn politically, it forces even those who are elected to office so much a conversation with a fairly homogeneous community. gerry: evan, social media, i've noticed this over a long period, people will say things on social media they would never dream of saying to your face. i mean, you know, it somehow emboldens them to be as offensive as they can possibly be. >> you can be anonymous and say i really don't like you because you're a boston red sox fan, and i think -- as a yankee fan -- [inaudible conversations] gerry: i'm a washington with nationals fan, so i'm sorry. >> i'm totally neutral. [laughter] >> really, instead of staying off social media, i think we should harness its power for good. social media spreads messages of, hey, somebody's in trouble, and they put up a go fund maine, and people will respond. also i have people who come up
to me and say i disagree with you on the issues so much, but i follow you because you post pictures of your dog, and he's really cute, your some other interest. because we realize we are more than just political differences. we're held together by things such as dogs. peld agree did a wonderful social expeople where they took people and had them wearing hillary outfits running around with an empty dog leash at a trump rally. and what would normally happen? lock her up. no, we'll help you find your dog. then they did the opposite, they put people in maga gear. we're far more connected. even if you find somebody you disagree with, go out and find things you disagree with them on, with the red sox being bad. gerry: the answer is more animals in politics. bring more pets into politics. no, seriously, people do -- how
do we get away from the feeling that people -- people do feel disenfranchised, or they feel powerless and lash out. how to we get people involved, making them feel more involved and perhaps, therefore, reducing some of that contempt? >> by the way, that's on both sides of the aisle. both democrats and republicans feel that way. one solution, actually, that i'm very passionate about is putting civics back in schools. we don't teach civics anymore and just understanding how government works, understanding the power of your vote, why our systems are in place and then how to affect change with those systems, i think, is incredibly important. because then you don't feel as helpless anymore, number one. if number two, i think just going out and going to local community meetings or talking to your neighbor ors just trying to get a sense that, you know what? i'm not in this by with myself. and i think that isolated feeling so many more americans
have. and i will go back to your point about social media, because i think that's one of those ways, if it's used appropriately, that you can bridge that divide. if you're in rural america, you're in upstate new york and you want to connect to somebody in man manhattan or the bronx we i grew up, we have a lot more in common than we don't. but if we can communicate over social media and share pictures of family and dogs and so on, it actually disrupts that isolationism. gerry: historically though, and i hate to say this, but these periods of great partisanship where people really, really seem to really strongly dislike each other have kind of been settled by an external threat. the country was very divided in december 1941, pearl harbor, and the country came together. is there something short of some terrible disaster or some war that can actually get people to overcome these differences? >> i think we aren't as divided right now as people think we
are, because we're hearing the loudest voices on social media and cable news, and we're not seeing that people on the street aren't mimicking that same behavior. if i trip and fall down, people aren't going to walk away from me because i'm a republican. i think that is actually a positive thing. i hope we don't have to have some event that unites us, because i think we have enough unity so far. we can always build on that, but i think we also have a responsibility being in the public eye and our leader especially to tone it down and to say, you know what? i don't agree with your yild, but let's work through it. gerry: people are appealing to emotion rather than reason. >> absolutely, i tell my students this all the time, people vote for pride or anger, but fear is one to to have strongest motivators to action. sometimes violent action, unfortunately. and, you know, i will say though i do feel that we're pretty divided because particularly as an african-american manages i feel that we're -- man, i feel that we're in a dangerous place in our country right now. that doesn't cause me to act, a,
out of character or, b, violently. but it does make me say, you know what? i need to, i need to have more conversations with folks. i need to get people to understand that we can do -- there's a better way to governance, there's a better way to actually talking about our differences that we're not seeing in the public eye. gerry: if people could only have a conversation like these two guests, i think we'd get over a lot of these problems much more quickly. my thanks to basil, evan, and we'll be right back with my thoughts on how we can perhaps all do better in the way we talk to each other. stay with us. ♪ i'm working to keep the fire going
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♪ ♪ gerry: demonstrating a withering contempt for your opponent if has always been part and parcel of healthy debate in american politic. a bastard brat of a scot peddler was how john adams referred to alexander hamilton, for example. but as we've discovered, it can be taken too far. part of the problem, i think, is that everything now has to be definitive. it's black and white. there is no room for doubt or uncertainty. i'm right, you're wrong. i'm good, you're bad. i'm smart, you're stupid. wouldn't it be good to show just a little more humility? a very wise person once said i wish i could be as certain of anything as he is of everything. well, there's a real wisdom in knowing that we don't, in fact, know everything. one thing i'm certain of is
that's all for this week. for the latest show updates, follow me on twitter, facebook and instagram, and i'll be back next week right here on "the wall street journal" at large. thank you for joining us. >> a texas family inherits a houseful of history worth millions. >> bam! >> bob davis was a world-class collector. >> [ imitates sword whooshing ] >> he had a love affair with these items. >> that's smart. >> and speaking of love affairs... >> what's this gun? >> this is a sawed-off shotgun that was carried by the barrow gang. >> the barrows? like bonnie and clyde barrow? >> like bonnie and clyde. >> their violent exploits spawned a legend... >> those images of these young outlaws shooting up the highways of america... [ gunshots ] ...somehow touches people. >> ...that may yield a fortune. >> the place is packed. people on the telephones are bidding. there's intense interest in the bonnie and clyde story. >> it was a mind-blower to watch. [ door creaks ] [ wind howls ]