The Beltway consensus seems to be that 2013 was a bad year for the same reason nearly every other recent year was bad: polarization and partisanship. Personally, I can think of plenty of more important things to worry about than partisanship. Democracy is about disagreements, and partisanship is often a sign of healthy disagreement.
But polarization is a bit different. It speaks not just to a lack of basic agreement about what kind of society we should live in, but a breakdown in understanding and respect among Americans. There’s a lot of them-vs.-us talk these days on the left and the right. And while I’d never want to live in a country where we all join hands and sing “Kumbaya,” maybe a bit more understanding wouldn’t be all bad.
So I have small suggestions for New Year’s resolutions for both the Right and the Left in 2014. For liberals, maybe you should try to accept the fact that you’re not the non-conformists you think you are. And for conservatives, perhaps you should consider that you’re not necessarily the irrefutable voice of “normal” Americans.
The thought occurred to me while reading “The Liberal Illusion of Uniqueness” in the journal Psychological Science. Apparently it’s a well-established finding that liberals tend to think their views are more rebellious than they are. They feel a “need for uniqueness.” And that need can stand in the way of seeking commonality with other Americans.
Conservatives don’t crave uniqueness. In fact, they are more likely to overestimate the extent to which there is a consensus around their beliefs. In other words, liberals bristle at the notion that they’re conventional thinkers, while conservatives are too quick to assume everyone thinks like them.