Last Thursday, Professors Marc Hetherington of Vanderbilt University and Jonathan Weiler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill lectured at Emory & Henry College as a part of the Bays Blackwell Symposium.
The Symposium was established in 1960 by Robert Lee Blackwell to bring “outstanding figures in the field of political science or statecraft” to lecture at E&H. Hetherington and Weiler have lectured before at E&H in 2010, where they spoke on that election cycle right after the release of their book Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. The book has just received the Converse Book award from the American Political Science Association and has been hailed as the most influential book in the past five years.
Their lecture covered a lot of areas, but mainly focused on how Americans have become increasingly polarized since the 1960s and are now more polarized than they ever have been before in history. Hetherington argued that because of this “the campaign for the Presidency is so uncompetitive,” with “40 of the 50 states voting the same way for the last 4 elections.”
They jointly affirmed that Republican and Democrats are as far apart as they have ever been and truly “hate each other.” Hetherington also brought up the statistic that more Americans are against the idea of their children marrying someone of the other party than someone of another race for the first time in American history.
One of the aspects of this huge divide is that Republicans and Democrats are now populated by mostly similar personality types, with Republicans being more cautious and wary. Out of this tendency came the rise of Donald Trump, according to Weiler. He claims that Trump plays directly to the fears that most Republican personality types have.
The lecture tried to identify some trends for the audience and inform them on what they can do to combat this polarization, but Hetherington summed up the direness of the current political climate that they outlined with this quote.
“We’re screwed for the long term… probably, but maybe not,” explained Hetherington. He followed this up by saying that if the current generation gets involved, we might not all be lost.
– Ethan King