Chicken little forecast

Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.


What Could Go Right? How to depolarize

With the 2024 election looming, we can still turn toward our fellow citizens.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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How to depolarize

On Monday, the day that former president Donald Trump was indicted in Georgia for efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, I got into an argument with a close friend who is considering voting for him again.

This friend is patriotic, a true lover of the United States. I told him I didn’t understand why he would vote for someone who so clearly doesn’t have the US’ best interests at heart. He told me that his vote is none of my business. Emotions rose. Eventually, he said, “It’s not right that you wouldn’t be friends with me anymore if I vote for Trump.”

I was taken aback. “I never said that,” I responded. “Of course we would still be friends.”

So much has been written about polarization in the US that writing about it again feels passé. I’m uncertain how much the US has passed through the trend of cutting off people we disagree with. But since the 2024 election looks, at least for now, like it will be a Trump-Biden rematch, it also feels necessary to continue to talk about depolarization.

The Progress Network (TPN) Member David Brooks recently wrote a piece in The Atlantic asking why Americans are so much meaner to each other nowadays. I’m not sure I agree with that premise, but I don’t think it’s controversial to say that American political dysfunction has bled into our private lives in ways that are damaging to social health. Americans increasingly view people affiliated with the opposing party as dumb and immoral. Partisan identification now supersedes that of race, religion, or ethnicity. 

One thing I find oddly encouraging when it comes to polarization is that fixing it includes a lot of normal activities that humans generally like to do and that ordinary people can easily participate in. There’s not much most of us can do about Trump’s legal woes, unless we happen to be Jack Smith or Fani T. Willis. But there is a lot we can do to depolarize.

Like hanging out with “Democracks,” as a friend of a friend refers to me. Or Republicans or libertarians or progressives. Or simply having some conversations with people you might not normally speak with, without the goal of trying to change their mind on a topic. If you’re not sure how to go about doing either of those things, the depolarization organization Braver Angels is a great go-to. 

More specifically, Substacker John Halpin, the writer at the helm of The Liberal Patriot, had four suggestions in his recent piece on how to recreate space for the “live and let live” ethos he sees at the heart of the American project. I see them as essential depolarization guidelines:

  1. Embrace more nonpolitical aspects to life.
  2. Keep politics out of most relationships and institutions.
  3. Resist social pressures to conform to narrow partisan beliefs and negative opinions of others with different views.
  4. Try harder to understand the positions of those with different backgrounds and opinions.

Numbers one and two should come as a relief. Go to yoga class, join a bowling league, become a LARPer, bring your kid to Gymboree. Do whatever you’d like. Just keep it nonpolitical! Voila: you’re already helping make America depolarized again.

If you’re an actively political person, this doesn’t mean that you have to change anything about your efforts, whether those are campaigning for a cause, signing people up to vote, or community organizing. It’s simply creating some space where those efforts are not the primary relationship glue.

Number three is trickier. I personally manage it by staying silent when people in my social circle disparage others for political views or by bringing up a nugget of information that challenges what is being shared. I also try not to assume that knowing X about a person means that they also think Y. People are complicated creatures, and the motivations each side tends to place upon the other are often wrong, or at the very least, simplified.

Number four has been particularly useful to me when it comes to navigating relationships in which you do talk about political issues. In a 2017 Stanford study, researchers found that one reason, as I wrote above, that partisan identification supersedes that of race, religion, or ethnicity is because it’s viewed as voluntary. Therefore, “it is a much more informative measure of attitudes and beliefs structures than, for example, knowing what skin color someone has,” says the study. In other words, I never chose to be Greek-American. I did choose to register as a “Democrack.” Others thus hold me responsible for that decision, as I hold them responsible for theirs.

But I do wonder how much control we really exercise over our political opinions and social stances, since what shapes them is often the product of environment—our neighborhoods and communities, our families and friends and coworkers, our cultural heritage, our educations, our social media algorithms. Random events, even, that happened to happen to us.

With my maybe-voting-for-Trump-again friend, for example, many of our viewpoint disagreements come from vastly different life experiences. He’s blue collar; I’m white collar. He’s a veteran; I’m not. He grew up very poor; I didn’t. Is it such a surprise that we don’t see eye to eye? And if one of our viewpoints shifts, is it because that person suddenly became a more responsible moral agent, or because their environment shifted?

Thinking in this way, we can still disagree with people’s decisions and positions, of course. We can still try to persuade them to change their minds. But it helps take apart the unconscious mental equation of “decision I think is bad” = “person I think is bad.”

With the presidential election looming, I believe turning toward each other is more important now than ever. Whether it’s Trump or Biden in 2024, and whatever comes next, we Americans will all still have to live with one another.

I’m curious to hear from our readers about this. Do you have any cross-partisan relationships? Is depolarization important to you? Any thoughts are welcome. Comment below or write to

Quick hits

  • Dutch researchers think there is much less plastic waste in the ocean than we previously thought. 
  • Remember the stories coming out of Oman of migrant workers’ passports being confiscated, so they were trapped in abusive working conditions? Oman has actually rewritten their labor laws in response. It’s not a perfect solution, and much depends on enforcing these new laws, but it’s something.

Below in the links section, clean energy is speeding ahead, AI is building new antibodies, Gen Zers are running for office, and more.

Another way to depolarize is to remember that our experiences are far greater than what we’re able to convey about them, as are everyone’s.

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Why we picked it: Understanding the answer to this question has helped me considerably in understanding both mainstream climate coverage as well as the skeptical response to it. Who is right? This post is just the facts, ma’am. —Emma Varvaloucas

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Comment 1 Comment

  1. Growing up one of the biggest influences was a priest who was a close friend of my parents. His mother grew up Jewish in Chicago in the early years of the 20th century but had married a Catholic. She was a great lady who took pride in the fact Jim had become a priest and his two sisters had become nuns and that all 3 were members of orders that emphasized charitable action. She hated Democrats with a passion , probably because at the time she grew up they were dominated by Southern racists and bigots who were anti-catholic and anti-Jewish. In the 60s when I was in my Teens I had arguments with them, where I put forward by beliefs as FACTs, which looking back I regret deeply. As I recall they demonstrated a lot of tolerance for a mouthy and insulting kid. But thinking about it now it has deeply influenced my later outlook on the world and for that I am extremely grateful.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.