Why Conservatives and Liberals Think Differently

It may be obvious that people who identify politically as liberals and conservatives think differently because they disagree on issues ranging from immigration to climate change policy. But what are the deeper psychological roots that drive their political beliefs? In the aftermath of the federal election, the Agenda explores the conservative mind vs. the liberal mind.

14:59
the first place Rob well you’ve got the
15:02
floor let’s just dive a little deeper
15:03
here on some of the work that you’ve
15:05
done comparing the moral beliefs of
15:06
conservatives and liberals and let’s
15:08
start with this to what extent do you
15:09
think people on the right and the left
15:11
live in different moral worlds yeah I
15:15
think that I think there’s a lot of
15:16
truth in that there’s pretty robust
15:18
finding in the political psychology
literature that liberals tend to endorse
and and deploy moral values like
protecting people from harm
empathy fairness and equality more than
can
servus do while conservatives deploy
moral values like

  1. group loyalty
  2. patriotism
  3. respect for authority and
  4. moral purity and sanctity

more than then
liberals do and we find that you know
when they go to make the case for those
specific political positions liberals
and conservatives tend to rely on these
their their respective moral values but
this can often lead them to make to make
cases for their politics that don’t
resonate with the other side might not
even be legible to someone on the other
side well that’s lorilynn you’re hearing
yeah let me follow up on that no I do I
want to do two quick follow-ups with you
right here because give us a for
instance if a liberal we’re trying to
change a conservatives mind about for
example climate change what would be the
better arguments to Marshall given what
you’ve just told us
yeah our research suggests that a
conservative might be more responsive to
an argument about the environment or
climate change if it was articulated in
terms of purity sanctity and pollutants
being disgusting D sanctifying human
bodies and and nature
that that’s sort
of a message because it fits with the
conservative value of moral purity we
find tends to be more effective than a
more conventional argument that a
liberal would be more likely to make in
terms of the need to protect vulnerable
ecosystems from from harm which doesn’t
tend to move the needle at least among
conservative and let’s do the other side
of the coin what about a conservative
trying to impress upon a liberal the
importance of let’s say military
spending something like that yeah so we
also find that this principle that if
you want to make an effective political
appeal you ought to think very carefully
about the person you’re communicating
with moral values and deeply all beliefs
we find it applies in both directions so
if you were trying to convince a liberal
to support high levels of military
17:32
spending it might not make a lot of
17:34
sense to make an argument in terms of
17:36
patriotism and the authoritative power
17:38
of the American military and instead you
17:41
might think well how could I tie this in
17:43
with liberal concerns about equal
17:45
opportunity and so we found that
17:48
an appeal that emphasized that the
17:50
military is a place where the poor and
17:52
minorities can achieve on a more level
17:55
playing field than in the you know the
17:57
open society that that’s sort of an
18:00
appeal LED liberals to say oh maybe
18:02
maybe I do support high levels of
18:04
military spending because they can it
18:06
helps the poor and minorities advance in
18:08
society hmm this potentially potentially
18:12
Paul opens the door to well who knows
18:16
everybody’s in their respective corners
18:18
right now in the boxing ring that is you
18:20
know the world today and I wonder if the
18:22
arguments could be reframed so that
18:24
people could speak a little could speak
18:27
to conservatives in a language that they
18:28
would appreciate better and vice versa
18:30
could you reduce polarization in the
18:33
world I think you can I think rob has
18:34
some excellent ideas now to do it I also
18:37
think we could we don’t have to give up
18:39
on idea of focusing on our common ground
18:41
so it’s true that conservatives in some
18:43
ways focus much more on groups and
18:45
issues of patriotism and nationalism but
18:48
liberals are no stranger to calls for
18:50
identity and group identity in fact
18:52
identity politics focusing on your
18:54
ethnicity or your gender your sexual
18:56
orientation is very much of an explicit
18:58
focus of a lot of liberal thoughts so in
19:00
some way they’re speaking the same
19:02
language they’re just talking about
19:03
different things and there’s something
19:05
else as well regarding reconciliation
19:08
and agreement which is I think by nature
19:11
by inclination by how we think there’s
19:13
an enormous amount of overlap between
19:14
liberals and conservatives but in the
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hurly-burly political world and social
19:19
media there was a huge split of us
19:21
versus them where all of a sudden being
a liberal I’m not responding to a
certain claim or idea based on how I
naturally react to it but I is it is it
from my team or is it from your team
and
there’s a lot of research finding that
if you give people an idea cap-and-trade
a response to climate change
funding for private schools and you tell
them this is a liberal idea or this is a
conservative idea they react very
differently to it your study after study
finding people don’t even care about the
idea they just care about is it my team
or is it your team
and if we could rid
political discourse of that or at least
diminish it we do
much much better well Becky let’s do an
example of something you’ve studied
fracking tell us the story so I think
that this speaks to Rob suggestion of
how to play to people’s morality and
having this kind of discussion so we
examined people’s favorability towards
hydraulic fracturing and the degree to
which they thought this was risky and we
found that people who are higher in
political conservatism were more
favorable towards hydraulic fracturing
and they saw it as less risky

we also measured knowledge about
fracking and people that knew more about
it had less favorable attitudes
about it
and they thought it’s more risky
however conservatives that knew more
about hydraulic fracturing for them they
had even more favorable attitudes and so
it is even less favorable than
conservatives that didn’t know a lot
about it and you find this same pattern
when you look at climate change so this
kind of goes against this notion that if
we just educate other people and they
know more and they’re more aware of
these issues they’ll get what I think
and they’ll be on board with my attitude
or the way that I see the world
and
that’s not what happens you have another
question yeah do you think I don’t know
if you’ve done this but do you think
21:05
have you told a group of conservatives a
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group of liberals and saying you know
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what do you think of fracking and let me
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tell you this Bernie Sanders Elizabeth
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Warren one thing they agree on is we
21:15
need more fracking of this type it’s
21:17
very important it’s important for their
21:18
environment or to help American business
21:19
to increase minority access to jobs do
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you think being told that would sway
21:24
their views I think it depends on who it
21:26
is so people that don’t know as much
21:28
about politics and don’t have that kind
21:30
of firm identity or just knowledgeable
21:32
for them it could sway them but for
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people that are very knowledgeable at
21:35
these things they understand what
21:36
defines a conservative position and a
21:38
liberal position it’s not going to sway
21:40
them so I think that political identity
21:43
in belonging to these groups is really
21:44
important in dictating our beliefs or
21:46
attitudes how we vote but it’s not the
21:48
only thing and I worry sometimes that we
21:50
overstate it so I think it depends on
21:52
the person and I think it depends on the
21:53
context so in an American context right
21:56
now where the stakes are really high you
21:58
can see how people might be more apt to
22:00
kind of be like okay I can give that up
22:01
right now even it’s important to me
22:03
because I want my team to win but kind
22:05
of under normal circumstances or less
22:07
high threat or high stakes situations it
22:10
shouldn’t have the same kind of impact I
22:12
mean living in a state in the age of
22:13
Trump
22:14
very much in a high polarization time
22:16
there is a study that was recently done
22:18
which ask people about cap and trade
22:19
what do you think of cap and trade and
22:21
people had very strong views about it
22:23
then they asked them another question
22:24
what is cap and trade and I gotta say I
22:31
like I’m not I have found myself
22:32
exposing strong views and realizing I
22:35
don’t know that much I just know what
22:36
views I’m supposed to have yeah I’m
22:38
still waiting for the moment where there
22:39
where the conservative person says wait
22:41
a second Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren
22:43
are in favor of fracking date you don’t
22:45
think anybody would say that they would
22:47
be surprised they would be surprised
22:48
indeed if they were to say that okay
22:50
let’s um yeah
22:52
apropos of my team is better than yours
22:54
let’s go on to this in today’s polarized
world is it simply okay Rob you start
with this is it simply more important
okay for for for people to say I’m with
my team I don’t care I’m not
influenceable by facts I don’t care what
the facts say loyalty to my team is all
what it’s about
nowadays right yeah I
think there’s a lot of evidence for that
and I think that what we see when we
look at trends and polarization in the
US over the last 40 years or so and this
is in the general public mind you that
you don’t see as much of ideological
polarization wherein people are clumping
around coherent ideological worldviews
because people are kind of they’re a
little bit disorganized in in their
thoughts they don’t spend all their time
thinking and talking about politics and
those who do they are very ideological
on average but what we see very clearly
is this rising antipathy across party
lines where Democrats and Republicans
you know increasingly dislike the
political out group and favor their own
in-group over the last 40 years or so
and if you look for like well what what
sparked all this I think that the
biggest thing that sparked it was that
at the elite level elected politicians
Congress people the president and so on
they polarized first they separated
along party lines and became
ideologically distinct you know by the
80s
or so in a way that was not so much
24:26
the case in the 50s and
24:27
once that happened it became easier to
24:30
say okay no I really am a Democrat
24:32
because I’m a liberal and I really am
24:34
not like those other people and in fact
24:37
I really dislike them but when things
24:39
were a little more mixed up in terms of
24:41
what Democrats Republicans believed as
24:43
was the case in the 50s it was harder to
24:46
hate the other side cuz they were not so
24:47
clearly different from from your own
24:50
Becky let me let me pursue with you the
24:53
notion about whether or not we are less
24:54
polarized in Canada than they are in the
24:56
United States basically everybody who
24:59
gets elected down there is a Democrat or
25:00
a Republican basically I mean you got a
25:02
few independents along the way but
25:03
basically that’s it we just had an
25:05
election which is going to send liberals
25:06
and conservatives and New Democrats and
25:10
block East’s and greens to our federal
25:14
parliament and the People’s Party even
25:16
they didn’t win any seats but they got a
25:17
bunch of votes what does that say I
25:19
think there’s several things that are
25:21
going on I think we’re not immune to the
25:24
kind of quote/unquote tribalism that’s
25:26
happening south of the border but I
25:28
think that we have some buffers in the
25:30
sense that we have a multi-party system
25:31
now if any one of those parties should
25:34
gain more popularity to kind of lose
25:37
some of those I think we would be in
25:39
greater danger of having this kind of us
25:41
versus them mentality and I think that
25:42
still exists here but it’s difficult to
25:44
have that to the same extreme because we
25:46
have more than one party so there’s
25:48
multiple people kind of vying for power
25:50
how accurate do you think the view that
25:53
conservatives have of liberals and vice
25:55
versa
25:56
all is yeah there’s been a lot of work
25:59
on this and and there are two things one
26:01
thing is that psychologists are always
26:03
interesting everybody’s interested in
26:05
bias against against women against black
26:08
people against gays and their subtle
26:09
measures of this but the bias is we have
26:12
at least in the states towards the other
26:13
political team are anything but subtle
26:16
they’re powerful people to say if you’re
26:19
a Republican I don’t want to see a
26:20
Democrat I don’t want my kid to marry a
26:21
Democrat and then you get to kick the
26:23
question of accuracy so when you ask
26:25
people about other groups let me ask you
26:27
some questions about about gay people
26:28
about women it turns out a lot of
26:31
studies have been done showing that to
26:32
bet people have a pretty good perception
26:34
of the other group what jobs they tend
26:37
to have all sorts of other factors about
26:39
them but this goes to garbage
26:41
when you ask people politics so Liberals
26:44
have very confused ideas about
26:46
conservatives and conservatives very
26:48
confused ideas about liberals and what
26:50
happens is that this sort of tribalism
26:52
we’re talking about distorts our
26:54
thinking if you’re my worst enemy in the
26:56
world I’m not gonna think about you in
26:58
an objective fashion I’m gonna pile upon
27:00
you every stupid and ugly attitude and
27:03
and and you know if if if not it’s not
27:06
hard to see that this is not a good
27:08
thing politically and maybe this is why
27:09
Canadian politics which doesn’t have too
27:12
strict you know either-or dichotomy that
27:14
American politics has is less vicious
27:17
than American politics so a lot less
27:20
interesting too the last time you were
27:21
on this program and in fact I can see
27:23
your book on the Shelf right over there
27:24
we talked about your book about empathy
27:27
and so I’m going to facetiously say to
27:29
you right now because I know what your
27:30
answer is gonna be more empathy would
27:32
help this right well I’m not gonna say
27:34
yes come on I’m sighs you to say yes I’m
27:37
sure will surprise me which is it
27:39
depends what you mean by empathy so so
27:41
one sort of empathy which means feeling
27:43
the pain of others feeling the suffering
27:45
of others a study came out last week
27:47
which is causing a lot of play which
27:49
finds that the more empathy you have of
27:51
that sort the the more you hate the
27:53
other group why because you devote all
27:56
that feeling and empathy towards your
27:58
own group it makes you more tribal on
28:00
the other hand there’s another sort of
28:03
empathy which the most understanding
28:04
people perspective taking and I think
28:07
that is mostly for the good I think that
28:09
that you know if I if I was I was a
28:12
Hillary voter I don’t need to put myself
28:15
in the shoes of a trump voter but I
28:17
should try to understand why they voted
28:18
for Trump among other things if I want
28:21
my side to win the next time it sure
28:23
helps to know why why I didn’t win last
28:26
time just a few minutes to go here and
28:28
let me get Jonathan Hyde into this
28:30
conversation and the social psychologist
28:32
recently had this to say left and right
28:34
are like yin and yang both see different
28:37
threats push in different directions and
28:39
protect different things that matter and
28:42
that are at risk of getting trampled by
28:44
the other side okay bigger picture here
28:47
do liberals and conservatives need each
28:49
other in some way less their own
28:51
impulses turn inward and destructive
28:54
back
28:55
so I’d say on a macro level that is
28:57
probably beneficial to have a diverse
28:59
pool of ideological outlooks
29:01
I think anything in the extreme could
29:03
kind of lead us down a dangerous path
29:05
and I think there’s many examples of
29:07
very extreme right-wing or left-wing
29:09
governments around the world the kind of
29:10
plate of that to illustrate kind of the
29:12
dangers I think having a sort of push
29:14
each other back and forth and keep us in
29:15
check again on a macro level is probably
29:18
beneficial on the whole Rob I disagree
29:20
with everything you say but damn it all
29:21
I need you is that what we’re saying i I
29:24
you know I think there’s a lot of truth
29:26
in that I think ideological diversity
29:28
can help groups make better I’d you know
29:31
better decisions and come up with more
29:33
different possibly better ideas I also
29:36
think that an ideologically pluralistic
29:38
society is a difficult one to steer
29:42
effectively because it’s disposed to
29:45
creating these sort of tribal
29:47
differences
29:48
so if I have deeply different views on
29:50
things that matter a lot from you in an
29:53
ideal world we get together we you know
29:55
we come up with a way to get all the
29:57
advantages out of that and none of the
29:58
weaknesses but I think there is also a
30:01
very strong tendency for us to decide
30:02
that we are fundamentally different and
30:04
our differences are irreconcilable
30:06
because they go all the way down to our
30:08
bones to our values and so I have a
30:11
little bit less of a rosy picture of
30:13
moral pluralism Paul last thirty Seconds
30:16
to you we know that when political
30:17
parties want to raise money all they do
30:19
is put every alleged sin of their
30:22
opponents in those letters and they just
30:24
watch the shekels come in we’re kind of
30:26
doomed in this regard aren’t we we have
30:29
our worst instincts and people there’s a
30:31
lot of money and votes and power in
30:33
exaggerating the differences that exist
30:36
between these groups but I I agree with
30:38
with these other guys on pluralism is
30:40
what we should we just aspire for as
30:42
voters and as individuals authoritarians
30:45
on both sides will try to shut that down
30:46
they’ll try to shut down free speech
30:47
they’ll try to shut down communication
30:49
and I think we have a sort of moral duty
30:51
liberals and conservatives both to to
30:54
try to listen and try to try to get
30:56
together and try to be pluralistic in
30:57
the best of all possible ways amen
30:59
that’s a great place to leave it I want
31:01
to thank all three of you for coming out
31:02
of TVO tonight Rob will are at Stanford
31:04
University in California
31:06
Becky Toma from Ryerson University
31:08
in toronto Paul bloom from Yale
31:10
University in New Haven Connecticut it’s
31:13
great to have all of you on TV Oh
31:14
tonight thanks so much thank you
31:19
the agenda with Steve Paikin is brought
31:21
to you by the chartered professional
31:22
accountants of Ontario CPA Ontario is a
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31:28
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31:38
thank you

Mueller and Comey Failed Their Tests. She Passed Hers.

Marie Yovanovitch chose her country over what others might think of her.

To understand the courage that witnesses like Marie Yovanovitch have shown during the Ukraine investigation, it’s worth looking back on a couple of the other signature moments of the Trump era.

One was in the summer of 2016, when James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, faced an uncomfortable choice. He and his colleagues had concluded that Hillary Clinton should not be prosecuted for using a private email account to conduct government business. Her conduct was sloppy and inappropriate, but it was also fairly common and not close to being criminal.

Still, Comey knew that Republicans would vilify him for his decision not to prosecute. They would portray it as partisan, rather than what it was: a straightforward application of the law. And Comey prized his reputation for appearing to be above partisan politics.

So he looked for a way to dilute the criticism. Instead of simply closing the Clinton investigation, he gave a news conference blasting her. Doing so violated Justice Department policy, but also ensured that the subsequent criticism of Comey would come from both Democrats and Republicans. Comey, in short, put a higher priority on avoiding the appearance of partisanship than on doing the right thing.

Three years later, Robert Mueller faced his own uncomfortable choice. As special counsel, he helped uncover evidence that President Trump had repeatedly broken the law, including paying hush money to two women and interfering in the Russia investigation. But Mueller understood that clearly laying out his conclusions would subject him to vicious criticism as a partisan. Like Comey, he prized his reputation for floating above partisan politics.

Conveniently, he found a solution that protected his reputation. Mueller’s final report included a detailed recitation of facts, but its conclusions were deliberately obtuse, which meant they changed almost nobody’s mind. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller cryptically said. Making matters worse, he then allowed the Trump administration to control — and spin — the report’s release.

Mueller, to be fair, has a stronger defense than Comey. Throughout, Mueller interpreted Justice Department guidelines in narrow ways: Those guidelines didn’t compel him to present clear conclusions — as Kenneth Starr had two decades earlier — and so Mueller didn’t do so. It’s possible that Mueller’s mistakes had more to do with naïveté than pride.

Yet the outcome was the same. Both Mueller and Comey preserved their nonpartisan images (only temporarily in Comey’s case, because he later engaged in a full-on fight with Trump), while the country suffered.

Comey’s unprecedented insertion of the F.B.I. into the final stages of a presidential campaign may have decided the outcome. And Mueller’s convoluted report was a gift to Trump. Mueller’s long investigation uncovered extensive evidence of a president who had broken the law and abused his power, but Mueller did almost nothing to hold the president accountable.

Now let’s return to the Ukraine case — and contrast the approach of Comey and Mueller with the very different decisions by Yovanovitch, Alexander Vindman, Bill Taylor, George Kent and, above all, the whistle-blower.

After learning that Trump was pressuring a foreign country to investigate American citizens, the whistle-blower took the extraordinary step of filing a formal complaint against the president. He had to have understood the risks of doing so. He could lose his job and his career. He could become a Fox News boogeyman. Any part of his background could be subjected to public scrutiny. His life might never be the same.

And yet he put a higher priority on doing the right thing than on avoiding accusations of partisanship.

Since then, Yovanovitch, Vindman, Taylor and Kent have made similar decisions. Despite the personal risks, they have testified forthrightly about Trump’s actions. Sure enough, Trump apologists have smeared them. Conservative pundits suggested Vindman was a traitor, and a House Republican lamely tried to link Yovanovitch to a Democratic operative. Trump has publicly insulted the witnesses. They have been portrayed as partisan hacks rather than what they are: Americans willing to pay a price for their country.

The radicalization of the Republican Party means that other people are going to face versions of this dilemma. Not just Trump, but many members of Congress, have chosen to depict anything other than partisan hackery for their own side as partisan hackery for the other side. Just look at Adam Schiff, the House Democrat who — though like every human being makes occasional missteps — has run a fair, rigorous impeachment inquiry and whom Republicans have painted as a vindictive villain.

The situation is even more difficult for people who pride themselves on their nonpartisanship. This group includes Mueller, Comey, diplomats, law enforcement agents, journalists, national security officials, Federal Reserve officials and more. Many of them may be faced with a miserable choice, in which they can’t both do the right thing and preserve their reputation for doing the right thing.

Mueller and Comey are decent men who have served their country honorably for decades. Yet when confronted with this test, even they failed it. Which should make us all the more grateful for Yovanovitch, Vindman, Taylor, Kent and the whistle-blower.

Slow-walking impeachment may look weak. But restraint is Democrats’ greatest strength.

There was only one side of the dais at Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing that mentioned impeachment — and it wasn’t the Democratic side.

There was only one side that hollered and sputtered, one side that lobbed insults at the other and impugned colleagues’ motives — and it wasn’t the majority.

Indeed, Tuesday’s hearing was a study in the asymmetric combat that defines our politics in the Trump era. Some on the left see this asymmetry as a sign of Democratic weakness. I see it as the nation’s best hope for recovery.

At Tuesday’s session, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), spoke in a calm, steady voice about the absence of former White House counsel Donald McGahn, a no-show after President Trump ordered him not to comply with a subpoena. “Mr. McGahn has a legal obligation to be here for this scheduled appearance. If he does not immediately correct his mistake, this committee will have no choice but to enforce the subpoena against him,” Nadler intoned.

Nadler mentioned neither impeachment nor contempt, and he managed to keep the Democratic side — including the gadfly who brought fried chicken to a previous hearing as a prop — quiet.

Then came Nadler’s Republican counterpart, Rep. Douglas Collins of Georgia, who practically yelled out his statement and fired off taunts so quickly that those of us in the room struggled to understand him, and the transcript designated several sections as unintelligible. The words that did come through were mostly caustic and personal. Nadler “rushed to maximize headlines,” was “politically expedient,” issued an “illegal subpoena,” “orchestrated” a “spectacle” and a “drama,” and is “more interested in the fight than fact-finding.” Collins further accused Nadler and the Democrats of “harangues,” “innuendo” and warned of“running roughshod over the Constitution.”

“The theater is open,” Collins said of the sedate proceedings. Because Democrats can’t find anything to “hang their I-word, impeachment, on. . . . We’re here again, with the circus in full force.”

Though accusing Democrats of theatrics by having the empty-seat hearing, Republicans attempted to continue bickering by voting against adjournment. “This is disgraceful!” cried out Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).

Watching this disparity in demeanor, I tried to imagine how things might look if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, and, two years later:

• Five of her campaign advisers had been convicted of crimes — one of them implicating her — and a sixth indicted.

• A prosecutor documented numerous instances in which Clinton had interfered with investigators.

• Clinton refused to let aides cooperate with subpoenas and dismissed an unfavorable court ruling as “crazy” and partisan.

• She directed the Justice Department to investigate the front-runner for the Republicans’ 2020 nomination.

• She directed the White House counsel to lie about her deceit, then ordered him not to testify.

Can anybody imagine, in those circumstances, a Republican speaker of the House and the Republican presidential front-runner (the one Clinton ordered investigated) steadfastly resisting calls for impeachment?

There is long-standing tension among Democratic lawmakers and 2020 presidential candidates about whether to answer Trump’s aggression and insults in kind (Republican lawmakers long ago internalized his style) or whether to be the grown-ups in the room. On the campaign trail, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kamala Harris(Calif.) have called for impeachment, and a growing number of Democrats in Congress, from fiery Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) to Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), a member of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.) leadership team, have joined the cause. Liberal activists rage against Pelosi “meeting fire with fecklessness,” as New York magazine’s Eric Levitz put it.

But the mass of voters side with restraint, and even anti-establishment Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said impeachment “works to Trump’s advantage.” Certainly, Trump has earned impeachment; Republican Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) has said as much. But with no chance of removing Trump, Democrats can instead show the country that our problem isn’t polarization; it’s that one side has gone bonkers, and the other side is trying to restore adult supervision.

Americans, even reluctant Trump supporters, hunger to end the madness. This is likely why former vice president Joe Biden holds a commanding lead, even though he’s out of sync with the party base ideologically and demographically. And generally, the 2020 Democrats seem to grasp the country’s need for normal. I had feared that, after Trump, Democrats would conclude there’s no penalty for lying. Instead, “anecdotally, I think they are trying to harder to be more factually accurate,” The Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, tells me.

This is an encouraging sign, as is party leadership’s efforts to resist an impeachment stampede. Impeachment may be inevitable if Trump continues to stiff-arm all inquiries. But Democrats are right not to emulate Trump’s insults, falsehoods and extreme partisanship as they go about their legitimate inquiries.

Maybe such restraint will be proved wrong in 2020, and voters will reward the insult hurlers. But if Americans don’t desire a return to stability, honesty and decency, our democracy is already lost.

Two Capitalists Worry About Capitalism’s Future

James Dimon and Ray Dalio are among the most successful capitalists in the U.S. today. So when they worry aloud about the future of capitalism, it’s worth listening.

I believe that all good things taken to an extreme become self-destructive and that everything must evolve or die. This is now true for capitalism,” Mr. Dalio, founder of hedge-fund manager Bridgewater Associates, writes on LinkedIn.

Mr. Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Co., writes in his annual letter to shareholders: “In many ways and without ill intent, many companies were able to avoid—almost literally drive by—many of society’s problems.

Captains of industry have always opined on the issues of the day. Still, these latest missives are noteworthy for three reasons.

  1. First, the authors: Mr. Dalio anticipated the financial crisis; his systematic management and investment style has made Bridgewater the world’s largest hedge-fund manager. Mr. Dimon is arguably the country’s most successful banker, having steered J.P. Morgan clear of the subprime mortgage disaster to become the country’s most valuable financial institution.
  2. Second, the timing: They are speaking out at a time when the free-market capitalism that has served them so well is questioned by many Americans, including prominent Democrats.
  3. Third, the content. Mr. Dalio and Mr. Dimon love capitalism and aren’t apologizing for it. But they recognize the system isn’t working for everyone, and they have ideas for fixing it, some of which might require rich people like themselves to pay more tax. Yet they fear the federal government is hamstrung by intensifying partisanship. So they are putting their money and reputations where their mouths are by speaking out, backing local initiatives and hoping like-minded business leaders join them. In effect, they are breathing life into the shrinking nonpartisan center.

In an interview, Mr. Dalio says many business leaders “don’t want to get into the argument. I can understand that. I say to myself, Should I get in? I do think if everyone keeps quiet, we’re going to continue to behave as we’re behaving, and it’s going to tear us apart.”

Mr. Dalio’s essay was inspired by a longstanding interest in the parallels between the 1930s and the present:

  1. the growth of debt and
  2. the relative impotence of central banks, the
  3. widening of inequality and the
  4. rise of populism.

Capitalism, he says, is now in a “self-reinforcing feedback loop”:

  • companies develop labor-saving technologies that enrich their owners while displacing workers.
  • The haves spend more on child care and education, widening their lead over the have-nots,
  • whose predicament is compounded by underperforming schools,
  • the decline of two-parent families, and
  • rising incarceration.

Mr. Dalio thinks inequality has fueled populism and ideological extremism, which he fears means capitalism will be either abandoned or left unreformed.

His solutions start with taking partisanship out of the mix. He would like government to join with business and philanthropic leaders with proven track records to find, fund and evaluate projects with high potential social returns, such as early childhood education and dropout prevention. The rich might have to pay more taxes, provided the money is used to raise the productivity and incomes of the bottom 60%, or establish a minimum safety net.

Mr. Dimon is less introspective about the flaws of capitalism than Mr. Dalio and more impatient with the recent fascination so many Americans are showing with socialism. His letter, written in the blunt, combative style in which he speaks (it should be read aloud in a Queens accent for full effect), reiterates familiar complaints about excessive postcrisis regulation.

But, like Mr. Dalio, he worries partisanship has crippled the country’s ability to enact basic reforms that elevate economic growth and strengthen the safety net, such as

  • improving high schools and community colleges’ provision of useful skills,
  • more cost-effective health care,
  • faster infrastructure approval,
  • more skilled immigrants coupled with legalizing illegal immigrants, and
  • requiring fewer licenses to start a small businesses.

“Can you imagine me saying, I can do a better job for the Chase customer if I don’t get involved in details, the products, the services, the prices, how we treat people, how call centers work?” Mr. Dimon asks in an interview. “Policy has too often become disconnected from the analytics; we got slogans instead. It’s driving people apart.”

There’s a chicken-and-egg problem with these well-intentioned calls for nonpartisan problem solving: It requires a level of nonpartisanship that doesn’t exist; otherwise the problems would, presumably, have been solved.

If business leaders can’t persuade with words, they may by example. Mr. Dalio and his wife, Barbara, have donated $100 million to the state of Connecticut, to be matched by the state and other philanthropists, to create a $300 million partnership devoted to reducing dropout rates and promoting entrepreneurship in underserved schools and communities.

For its part, J.P. Morgan has under Mr. Dimon combined commercial and philanthropic resources to finance affordable housing, small business and infrastructure and job training in Detroit, announced $600 million in workforce development grants since 2013, and boosted salaries for lower-end employees. Mr. Dimon, in his shareholder letter, called on fellow CEOs to “take positions on public policy that they think are good for the country.”

It doesn’t always work. The Business Roundtable, which Mr. Dimon chairs, successfully pressed Congress and President Trump for lower business taxes, but unsuccessfully for more infrastructure and legalizing illegal immigrants. Says Mr. Dimon: “We should give it the best shot we’ve got.”