Fellow Brookings Institution, political author discusses polarization in first talk of Steamboat Seminars

By | July 12, 2022

The Steamboat seminars hosted its first personal conversation since the pandemic began where William Galston discusses political polarization on Monday, July 11, 2022.
Katy Pickens / Steamboat Pilot and Today

Steamboat Seminars returns to personal lectures for its 20th season with a statement from renowned political thinker and author, William Galston, about the polarized state of American politics.

The conversation took place in the Strings Pavilion with several hundred attendees, and was moderated by Jane Stein, co-founder of Seminars at Steamboat and current board member.

“Over two decades, the Seminars have presented an impressive number of prescient nonpartisan public policy talks by prominent experts,” said Walt Dabberdt, chair of the board of directors for the Seminars at Steamboat, to open the statement. “We are continuing that tradition with this summer’s lineup of five seminars on very timely and compelling topics.”



Galston has worked in six presidential campaigns, worked for the Clinton administration, wrote several books and published a weekly column in the Wall Street Journal. He discussed what characterizes him as one of the heaviest threats to American democracy in his statement “Deeply Divided and Closely Divided: Why the Temperature Has Been Rising in American Politics.”

He outlined the historical context of what led to such fierce opposition between the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as potential steps forward to begin easing the country’s divisions.



Galston noted, as the title of the conversation suggests, that Americans are divided into “deep” and “near,” referring to the extreme nature of the polarization and the relatively similar number of Americans on both sides of the aisle. respectively.

“We moved from pervasive consensus to record polarization, partisan polarization, not just about substance, but also emotional polarization,” Galston said, referring to broad political consensus in the 1950s and early part of the 60s compared to today.

She rooted some of the context of this change in the political turmoil of the 1960s, including the Civil Rights era, the second wave of feminism and widespread protests about the Vietnam War that re-ignited debates about ideology after of a relatively undivided period of politics.

Added to the Watergate scandal in 1972, trust in government plummeted from 1965 to 1975, Galston explained.

“What happened at that time was just the beginning of what can be thought of as America’s great resolution,” Galston said. “Our ability to live together despite our differences has been replaced by an obsessive focus on differences and a growing feeling that we probably can’t live together.”

With this to date, the division and mistrust of the government and other public actors has only intensified, he added. Citing Gallup pollsGalston said confidence in institutions has fallen sharply over the past few years.

This makes it difficult to actually enact policy and achieve bipartisan ends, Galston explained.

“Unfortunately, when two parties are closely split, not compromising with the other party often means you will go empty-handed and then the American people will be so disappointed that another presidency has begun. with very high hopes saw the ship of that state. destroyed in the shoals of reality, “he said.

Cruel dividing lines also make it difficult to maintain power and create long -term, thoughtful policy, Galston said.

“My argument, in other words, is that this combination of deep division and close division has resulted in a large part of the toxic politics of our time,” Galston added.

At the end of his remarks, Galston said he hopes to end on a positive note – laughter from the audience – by describing some actionable steps individuals can take to alleviate polarization.

He said supporting indigenous movements for organized dialogue and candidates who are firmly in favor of the country’s reunification could be a good first step. Additionally, he added that engaging with national organizations working for bipartisan legislation could be another option, such as No Labels, which Galston co -founded.

He also advised voters to avoid candidates who feed on polarization, even if you agree with their policy agenda.

The Steamboat seminars will continue next week with a speech from Scott Kennedy at the “US-China Strategic Competition” at 5:30 pm on July 18 at the Strings Pavillion.


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