Disgust and fear are primary affects for the right, while a benign sense that people are good and toleration or celebration of differences characterizes the left.
What does this mean for those of us who wish to understand the “Great Political Divide” and also fear where it is leading, and want answers to the question: how can we mitigate our growing polarization and encourage a “middle way” of pragmatic compromise and democratic dialogue?
First, it is clear that ideological differences are inevitable and here to stay. As Hetherton and Weiler demonstrate, what lays beneath our political conflict and hatreds is a severe clash of worldviews between the fixed and the fluid, that differentiates people not simply in their voting, but their lifestyles, religious, cultural and even culinary and car buying proclivities. Secondly, what is most important is then the question of: how we navigate and negotiate these differences, and succeed in the task of constraining stridency, extremism and ill will.
Here is where recent developments in contemporary psychoanalysis offer help. An illuminating perspective to explain the increasing prevalence of rigid ideology (and the decline of the moderation) is trauma-based psychoanalysis – as found in work of Doris Brothers and Robert Stolorow. Brothers, a psychologist/psychoanalyst illuminates the psychodynamics of trauma in a way quite applicable to history in her Toward a Psychology of Uncertainty: Trauma-centered Psychoanalysis (2008) Brothers shows how traumatic experience often brings with it a proclivity for dogmatism or attraction to cults. In his Trauma and Human Existence (2007), and World, Affectivity, Trauma: Heidegger and Post-Cartesian Psychoanalysis (2011), the inter-subjectivist Stolorow makes quite pertinent observations on the role of trauma and trauma-based “resurrective ideologies” in history. Martin Heidegger, despite his philosophic genius, Stolorow shows, was susceptible to Nazism in the 1930’s partly due to a convergence of traumatic experiences. Both emphasize that a psychological effect of trauma (capital T or small t) is a quest for certainty and security, a desperation to restore what was lost. Traumatized people are vulnerable to the lure of rigid assuredness that all questions are answered and simplicity, not complexity, reigns.
There are two things that are especially needed in this regard. It is essential that we begin to develop political leadership that is attuned to the subjective experience and psychic sufferings and needs of our population, especially those affected by wrenching economic, social and cultural change. The Berkeley sociologist, Arlie Hochschild’s 2016 book, Strangers in their Own Land, is a brilliant attempt to research the roots of ultra-right political ideology from an essentially empathic and psychological (social psychological) viewpoint. She went into Northern Louisiana to get to know the local leaders of the Tea Party movement, and immersed herself in their culture and lifestyles, making friends and seriously seeking to understand why they believed what they believed. What struck Hochschild (in addition to how nice these people were) was, how their environments (the Louisiana bayou country) was being gradually destroyed by chemical and toxic pollution. The chemical and energy industry had newly heavily invested in plants in the area; now the fish were disappearing and workers were dying of cancer. But despite what to Hochschild as a Berkeley liberal believed was the obvious conclusion that we need more governmental regulation of industry, the ideology that these people embraced was that government was bad and corrupt, of no help whatsoever, and that they needed the jobs these industries provided, and that according to their Christian fundamentalist religious very strong beliefs they would be rewarded in an afterlife for being faithful good people, and even though trees were dying around them, in a direct quote from a likable old guy she got to know: “in heaven they say there are beautiful trees.”
Her approach was very psychological, and she sought at every turn to understand how these Southern ultraconservative put things together – at their core is a “deep story” by which they make sense of their lives and construct an identity. This is a theme that pervades the explanation for the popularity of Trump in the rust belt and coal mining regions. Pivotal in the 2016 election were the votes of working, family oriented, church-going decent people who feel that they have been left behind and ignored and disrespected by liberal urban political “elites.
One of the lessons of 2016 is that a Democratic Party or presidential candidate that is out of touch with the psychological dimension of globalization and suffering of those displaced by economic change will fail and if the left does not effectively address this discontent, the right will give what is inchoate and unformulated a direction of its own. (Unchecked, this undoubtedly, would spark more extremism on the left, leading to increased polarization and conflict). It has also become apparent that economic displacement and distress alone does not alone account for “Great Revolt” that animates the ultra-conservative movement today. Latent racial resentment, ethnic nationalism, and residual racist attitudes can also be considered to play a part.
Leadership that discerns the deeper emotional needs and themes that underlie the veneer of ideological expression will be an important part of overcoming our bitter ideological divide. Demagogues and dictators do this, as the psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut pointed out in his analysis of the role of “narcissistic rage” in the rise of Nazism in Germany’ pointing out how empathy can be used for good or ill. Kohut noted that the Nazis designed the V2 rockets to give off a siren sound as they descended so as to impose terror on Londoners in 1940-41. Psychological thinkers as far back as Freud have pointed out the unconscious and irrational forces that characterize group psychology and the cult of the leader who is attuned to the irrational and us able to manipulate his followers.
Secondly and finally, it is clear that we must take steps to encourage dialogue and engagement between those on each side of the ideological divide with one another. This would involve an attitude of curiosity and compassion that mirrors that of an effective psychotherapist whether they are doing couples therapy or helping someone change how they respond to the challenges (past and current) of their lives. With an understanding of the dominance of worldviews (such that even the facts are not shared between opposing viewpoints) and how logic and reason are not likely to change minds, we can still cultivate a middle and common ground in which “independent” voters can engaged with and persuaded.
Contemporary relational and intersubjective psychoanalysis has much to offer here as well. Interpreting why a person clings to or has embraced an extremist ideology can be understood in developmental terms, or as a way of resolving intractable inner conflicts, or the expression of “unconscious organizing principles” which operate automatically, and can be changed when brought to the light of consciousness and critically examined.  Projection and “negative judgment” are well known patterns which psychotherapists observe in patients who are in psychological and emotional distress. As the psychoanalyst Nancy McWilliams has pointed out, projection is a process not an essentialist trait, one which nearly everyone is susceptible to when overly-stressed or in a state or regression.  Anti-attitudes and the judgments of laziness (vs. productivity), stupidity (vs. intelligence), and otherness (vs. compassion), can each be seen as ways of projecting feared unacceptable self-traits onto others. The rush to judge those whom one categorizes and castigates as the epitome of wrongheadedness (e.g. conservatives who conjure up with derision an entity such as “The Left” (or more radically, the “Libtards”), or liberal leftists who focus on the threat of “The Right” as a monolithic bloc and consider irredeemable and racist those who gravitate toward a conservative viewpoint, illustrate divisiveness and proneness to conflict, as well as disdain for the “political other.” The way forward that could bring reconciliation, psychotherapists can point out, will not be the path attacking another’s ideology or person, so much as understanding and meeting the emotional needs that underlie it.
If there has emerged a “culture of narcissism” as Christopher Lasch both described and predicted (see Part I), then what is needed is not moralistic judgment and psychopathologizing, so much as understanding and interpretation of meanings.
Narcissistic self-absorption and dissociation from connection to others are essentially “dysfunctional” traits, and what is needed are practical and policy efforts to decrease and reverse this trend. Insofar as narcissism excludes empathy and compassion for others, the therapeutic goal is to cultivate connection and to illuminate and break down rigid defenses against dependency and vulnerability. Just as therapists work toward the goal of both alleviation of symptoms and personal growth and maturation, we as citizens must work toward diminishing the symptoms of hostility and conflict, while fostering a society of cooperation, common sense and civic virtue free of extremist ideologies and fanatical polarization.
Challenges: a mediator’s postscript
The task of bridging the current ideological divide seems almost impossible. The political machinery and culture, the power arrangements, and the lack of a cooperative spirit imbued with unwillingness to compromise, coupled with deeper and deeper distrust and mutual disgust on both sides can make even the most optimistic among us skeptical. The pessimistic outlook expressed by the words ‘there is no way out if this predicament’ hides a desire to find a common ground, avoid violent conflict and marginalize extremist views and unbecoming behavior. The desire is also reflective of the American past, where citizens viewed themselves as members of predominately centrist (moderate) society with the proclivity for pragmatic attitude and problem-solving. Regrettably, creating the forum for meaningful public discourse, for now, looks like a remote possibility. Yet, we can see it as an urgent ethical and political necessity.
So what could stand in the way to engage in dialogue between competing ideological views? And who should competently carry and participate in this dialogue and with what aim and purpose, so that multiple, diverse voices are heard, recognized and acknowledged?
Let’s begin with certain socio-cultural tendencies we already mentioned. Two tendencies are playing prominent roles. The first one was mentioned in the beginning of this article and reiterated again later. It is the trend toward progressively expanding narcissism, which in minds of the authors of the book ‘THE NARCISSISM EPIDEMIC: Living in the Age of Entitlement’, is becoming alarmingly prevalent. The authors explore multiple characteristics of the narcissistic personality created and enhanced by contemporary culture thus creating the culture of narcissism. Certain characteristics are spelled out in the naming of the chapters. Here are some of them.
· Competitive striving
· The Celebrity and Media Transmission
· The Repeal of the Reality Principle
· The Rise of Incivility (Antisocial behavior)
· (Striving for) Uniqueness
The narcissistic epidemic is prompting specific questions. Is this a ‘new normal or a new abnormal’? Does the increasing trend toward self-preoccupation, self-absorption, self-centeredness, and selfishness preclude the possibility of the meaningful public discourse and collaborative dialogue? The question is further complicated by the valuations what qualifies as normal and abnormal. Some experts in the field of psychotherapy and psychiatry make distinction between normal and pathological narcissism (narcissism is often portrayed as the trait of High Conflict Personality) and offer the concept of narcissistic continuum.  Finally, a cautionary note, the diagnosis of narcissistic personality is often overused, misused, and sporadically abused.
The second tendency is one toward tribalism, specifically ideological tribalism, where divisions are demarcated by distinct conglomerations of competing interests, needs, and preferences. The contemporary tribalism is not only specified by geographical location (rural versus urban division) but also by the coalescence of the sets of beliefs which can be communicated across distant territories, using modern technology. Therefore, the organization of present-day tribes can be quite cohesive or fairly lose. Communities and networks, both account for tribal organization.
Trouble occurs when pathological and extreme narcissistic and tribal tendencies create a potential for violent conflicts permeated by disgust and hate. The first step toward a conciliatory effort to bridge ideological divide is to acknowledge that hatred and disgust cross many boundaries and are not exclusive to a specific group or tribe. We are witnessing ‘the reciprocity of hate by the tribally aggrieved’. Regardless of identities invested in group affiliation by different individuals, we experience hate in many corners of our world. Despite the historical grievances and injustices (based on discrimination and oppression) which often are used as justifications for the variety of causes and struggles to achieve ‘social justice’, we must acknowledge that the capacity to hate can be found in all of us. We can find those who hate Blacks among Whites, Asians, or Jews. We can find haters among Blacks who hate Jews or Whites, or Hispanics. We can find haters among Catholics or Orthodox Jews hating homosexuals. Similarly, we can find haters among the members of gay community who hate the Catholic Church and anybody who is associated with it. Hatred of Jews and Christians by Muslims is as common as the hatred in the opposite direction. Some women hate all men and some men hate women. There are those who hate rich people, the government, or lawyers. Disgust and hate lead to aggression, violence, and ‘naked’ conflict, therefore there is a need to recognize and check our worst impulses by exercising restrain and self-control. In the atmosphere of deep ideological conflict which cuts through multiple fault lines, exercising patience with others is not an easy task.
That leads to another challenge which easily precludes willingness to engage in dialogue with a stranger or the real or perceived enemy. It often starts with moral outrage, expressed by contempt and disgust for the other. The other can be a family member, a neighbor, or a dweller of a faraway land. It is not unusual to hear people express a strong feeling of revulsion directing at political leaders and painting them as evil, abhorrent, viscous, or cruel. Moral outrage can quickly turn to uncontrolled rage, and rage can easily lead to violence.
In the center of the current ideological divide as in any other conflictual situation is the distrust among opposing sides. The opposition can be binary (enabling two-party mediation or negotiation) or plural (enabling multi-party mediation or negotiation). Distrust creates highly contested atmosphere and often is a precursor to high intensity conflicts. Distrust cuts two different ways, distrust of others and distrust (or the lack of trust) of oneself. Distrust of others is embodied by the anti-attitudes and labels representing distinct judgments of laziness, stupidity, craziness, and otherness. It is often accompanied by moral outrage, based on moral judgments related to wrongdoing (criminality) and transgressions (the imposition of harm and cruelty) committed by outsiders or strangers who can quickly morph into enemies. Distrust of oneself is accompanied by self-doubt and the lack of confidence. Both types accompanied by the high degree of distrust often preclude willingness of parties to come together and engage in dialogue or mediation process. (A good example is provided by Kenneth Cloke)  Both types are used as justification or rationalization by parties not to participate. These justifications time and again cover discomforts and fears of the parties in conflict to avoid confrontation at all cost or accommodate the other side to terminate the ordeal as quickly as possible. Self-doubt is underlined by unwillingness to talk about sensitive or dangerous topics or by the fear of repercussions stemming from perceived threats or previously experienced harm perpetrated by the opponent or the enemy. It is not difficult to determine that the high level of distrust is a major challenge to mediation, co-joint therapy, or negotiation. Distrust and disgust often go hand in hand. The visceral reaction of disgust, impulsive reactions such as rage and aggression are behavioral manifestations of discontents the ideologically divided camps exhibit again and again. They represent what is described as the ‘politics of gut’ where the adversarial posture is perpetuated and enhanced by the fear of retaliation or systemic persecution if the opposing side gains the upper hand and acquires power. That is why legitimation, illegitimacy or legitimacy of power and authority is in the heart of any political/ideological conflict. 
Two other challenges need to be mentioned. In the previous section the writings and research by J. Haidt, A. Hochschild, and by M. Hetherton and J. Weiler offered hope that understanding rather than diagnostications and negative judgments can help to bridge the ideological divide as long as there is the willingness to engage in inquiry into the minds and hearts of the opposition, accompanied by sympathetic and yet impartial attitude. All four authors (predominantly of a left-leaning political orientation) made a valiant effort to present ideological profile of the citizenry which felt disregarded, disrespected, and possibly ridiculed by so-called coastal elites. Divergent ideologies should remind us that all of us need not only to consider what others believe in, but also what they do to contribute to the wellbeing of the society. Without farmers in rural areas we would not have food on the table. Without scientists we would not have technological advancement, and without explorers of energy resources such as oil and alternative energy sources we would not be able to drive our cars and fly airplanes. Therefore, our public discourses about what is just, what is fair and what is detrimental, need not only to include concerns about diversity, liberty, and equality, but also about contribution and merit, which do not have to be necessarily in opposition with each other. 
The first challenge to consider is the lack of reciprocity or symmetry. It is unfortunate that those disenfranchised citizens who felt left behind and disregarded, do not return the favor trying to gain insight about their ideological adversaries, the coastal (be it financial and intellectual) elites. The second challenge is posed by a segment of population which is losing or already lost all hope and trust in their future and the future of the country. Their hopelessness is accompanied by helplessness. This portion of citizenry cannot be easily described by the ideological orientation or by location, or even by the group affiliation. What ties them together is a high level of alienation, nihilism, and preference for chaos and anarchy. These people lost the faith in all institutions, the country and the world altogether. People who do not believe in too much and do not value too much have nothing to gain when it comes to mediating their interests, needs, or concerns. Being disenfranchised, the course of action they might likely choose is to engage in destructive behavior. For them any violation of established norms and rules and defiance of the established order and institutions is for grabs. For the disenfranchised there is nothing worthwhile to fight for and nothing to negotiate. The fighting and defiance together with the annihilation of the existing order is the goal in itself.
For centuries philosophers and subsequently social scientists have been asking the question ‘how is social order possible’ with the ubiquitous presence of conflict in the lives of individuals and societies. What holds societies and collectivities together when animosity, disgust and the contempt and disregard of others, devaluation of their humanity (dehumanization) are so prevalent throughout the history? What enables societies to function, if so often we are divided by distinct sets of beliefs (ideologies) and see others as outsiders, aliens, opponents, competitors and enemies? One could argue that desire of humanity to compete is as strong as the need to collaborate. Paradoxically, both these tendencies are in competition and cannot be easily reconciled.
In his book, The Dance of Opposites, Kenneth Cloke ends up on the side of collaboration and the search for commonalities which tie humanity together. Being a practitioner of mediation for many years, he believes in bridging the differences through collaborative dialoging. For him the self-interest(s) of individuals and groups should be first redirected toward the interests of others and then replaced by common interests, which can be discovered by the parties as they engage in collaborative problem-solving with or without the involvement of a third party (a conflict resolver, a therapist, a negotiator). The main purpose of the practice of mediation is to enable and purport solutions and to reduce acrimony and enhance the coexistence between warring parties. Central to mediation are the moral attributes of the pragmatist philosophy.
Cloke separates dialogue from monologue and debate.
Monologue is the solipsistic enterprise where one talks to oneself, disregards others (and what they have to say), and persistently remains in his/her own mind or head, metaphorically speaking. People who engage in monologue in the presence of others do not listen to anyone other than their own inner voice. They have very strong convictions and cannot be convinced otherwise by anything or anyone. They ‘KNOW’. Today tribalism can be described as group solipsism.
Debate is a kind of ‘power-play’ or a contest by the means of argumentation, where one side is attempting to convince the other side of its truth. Convincing or persuading others is a competitive and/or strategic enterprise, sometimes for the sake of prevailing and sometimes for the sake of helping. Debate occupies an important role in communicative practice and should be valued rather than dismissed or diminished. Mediation aims (or should aim) at the second type of persuasion. That is, a subtle persuasion (sometimes called encouragement) by a mediator for the sake of helping parties. (The competitive aspect of the mediator’s effort to help parties sounds a bit paradoxical. Yet, what mediators are attempting is to offer arguments parties would be willing to accept to reach an agreement.) Process of debate for the purpose of prevailing and helping contains impersonal and transpersonal features, respectively. When the purpose is prevailing (manifestation of a stronger argument) often the participants in debate make a claim that it is the ‘Truth’ which prevailed, not them personally. In that sense, debate is impersonal, because so-called ‘objective truth’ supersedes so-called ‘subjective truth’ of an individual. When the purpose is to help parties, this type of purpose transcends mediators’ personal role and makes a process of mediation transpersonal from the standpoint of the third party.
Finally, dialogue is the form of a collaborative and voluntary enterprise which can provide benefits to all participants. It is the intersection of multiple views, perspectives, and truths. Dialogue is the time honored practice which binds people together.  It aims at mutual understanding by sharing beliefs, stories, experiences, and preferences. It asks for habitual open-mindedness. Dialogue is nothing short of taking the risk with strangers to be in the presence of the unfamiliar or the unknown, for the sake of expending the horizons of the familiar in the search of common humanity. It seeks common good, common ground, and common-wealth. It requires courage and at the same time safety for those who are willing to come to the ‘table’ and facing each other, knowing that the conversation will be difficult, often heated, sometimes uncomfortable, and without any guarantee that the agreement on complex, exasperating issues would be reached.
And yet, despite this, there have been few serious attempts to bridge the current ideological divide, because dialoging between many proponents, benefactors, and carriers of competing views is considered a waste of time. Too much talking which leads nowhere. So how can we become again the centrist nation, recognizing and respecting each other differences? Can we pass on the challenges mentioned above? Beyond pathologies which enable conflict, beyond distrust, disgust, and contempt, beyond outrage, rage, and hate, and beyond nihilism and away from chaos and anarchy, beyond stupidity, laziness, and craziness, can we meet somewhere in the midpoint, fulfilling the promise of this country by starting to talk to each other without apprehension?
We will finish with a history lesson, quoting Louis Menand from his book The Metaphysical Club: A story of Ideas in America (a tribute to American school of pragmatism and four prominent thinkers, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles S. Pierce, and John Dewey).
IT IS A REMARKABLE FACT about the United States that it fought a civil war without undergoing a change in its form of government, The Constitution was not abandoned during the American Civil War; elections were not suspended; there was no coup d’etat. The war was fought to preserve the system of government that had been established at the nation’s founding-to prove, in fact, that the system was worth preserving, that the idea of idea of democracy had not failed. This is the meaning of the Gettysburg Address and the great fighting cry of the North: “Union.” And the system was preserved; the union did survive. But in almost every other respect, the United States became a different country. The war alone did not make America modern, but the war marks the birth of modern America.
Let’s hope that our current crisis will, without violence, again preserve democratic order and the country will become a different and a better place again for the majority of citizens. Being able and willing to acknowledge our differences and yet cherishing our commonalities we can continue our miraculous experiment in co-existing. While talking to each other we can accept our disagreements, with patience and perseverance, hoping to overcome our ideological conflicts.
 See, Doris Brothers, “After the Towers Fell: Terror, Uncertainty, and Intersubjective Regulation”, Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. 8(1), pages 68-76, (2003)
 Robert Stolorow, World, Affectivity, Trauma: Heidegger and Post-Cartesian Psychoanalysis (2011)
 It’s no accident, I believe, that in my therapy practice the 3 clients I have most favorable to Trump have had the most trauma in their lives.
 Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in their Own Land, Anger and Mourning on the American Right: A journey to the Heart of our Political Divide (2016)
 See Kenneth Rasmussen, “Political Polarization in Contemporary America”, Cleo’s Psyche, December, 2012
 Salena Zeto & Bradd Todd, The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition (2018). For an insightful psycho-historical analysis of the roots of racism, see Peter Loewenberg, “The Psychology of Racism”, in G.B. Nash & R. Weiss, The Great Fear: Race in the Mind of America (Holt, Reinhart & Winston, New York, 1970).
 Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921)
 Robert Stolorow, Psychoanalytic Treatment: An Intersubjective Approach, (Hillsdale, NJ, Analytic Press, 1987)
 See Nancy McWilliams, www.psychologytoday/com/blog/the-me-in-we/201702/new-insights-paranoia
 Jean M. Twengle and W. Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement ATRIA Paperback, (2009)
 Marion F. Solomon, Narcissism and Intimacy: Love and Marriage in an Age of Confusion, W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., pages 43-62, (1989)
 The topic of disgust can be found in the multiple works of Martha Nussbaum. In above mentioned, Political Emotions, but also in, From Disgust to Humanity, Oxford University Press, (2010) and in Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions, Cambridge University Press, (2001)
 In his book, The Dance of Opposites, (Good Media Press, 2013, p. 263), Cloke, describes his experience in Greece with following words, ‘In some cases, as in the Mediators Beyond Borders dialogues in Athens on immigration, the presence in the community of an active Nazi organization like Golden Dawn that was regularly beating up and even murdering immigrants made it unlikely that either would agree to engage in dialogue of the other group was invited.’
 The topic of the legitimation of authority and power is discussed by Max Weber in his classic work, Three Types of Legitimate Rule, (1922). In a more contemporary work, Jurgen Habermas deals with this subject in his book, Legitimation Crisis, (1973).
 A discussion on this subject (liberalism v. libertarianism) occurred in the early 70-ties between political philosophers J. Rawls and R. Nozick. This topic is also the main subject of the book by T. Nagel, Equality and Partiality, Oxford University Press (1991)
 Garret Keizer, Nihilist Nation: The Empty Core of the Trump Mystique, The New Republic, October 25, 2018
 In their book, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, (Notre Dame University Press, 1971, pages 26-30) authors Ch. Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca make a distinction between persuading and convincing.
 Today a Socratic tradition of dialoging can be found in the writings of many contemporary authors, among them, G. Gadamer, J. Habermas, and the researchers who study so-called discourse and/or conversation analysis.
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