According to the U.S. Elections Project, in November 2020 Americans cast their votes for President at the highest rate of participation in 120 years. The number of votes cast for the two principal candidates were the highest and second highest in US electoral history.
And yet . . . commentators, scholars, and casual observers alike have been calling the 2020 Presidential election one of the most polarizing and divisive in recent memory—topping even 2016, and 2012 before it. Genuine dialogue between those with differing and competing views on contentious political issues has steadily declined in both public and private spaces. Conflicts escalate and are exacerbated through anonymous, or at best impersonal, social media platforms that amplify vitriol and misinformation at digital speed. The country increasingly is polarized not on the basis of differing views on the issues, but on the very meaning of truth itself. “Pro” and “con” seem quaint in this hyper-partisan era that glorifies demonization and dehumanization of the “other”.
Meetings of the reading group will be devoted to reading and discussion on the purposes, shape, form, methods, limits, and critiques of political dialogue. We will explore the state of, and the history of, politically driven conversation in American life and provide participants an opportunity to explore the possibilities, benefits and limits of civil dialogue as a tool to bridge deeply polarized communities, groups, and identities.
There are no pre-requisites required for this reading group beside a willingness to engage openly and bravely with classmates on political issues that may touch on identity, emotions, perceptions, privilege, and perception. Attendance at all sessions will be required.