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Divisive politics leading to social, political crises, Hauenstein speakers say

  • Ronald C. White, left; David Brooks, center; and Hauenstein Center director Gleaves Whitney, right.
  • crowd members react to david brooks and ronald c. white on stage

Posted on October 04, 2017

Culture in the United States and trust in politics, in general, are on the decline, according to New York Times columnist David Brooks and historian and author Ronald C. White. 

Brooks and White spoke about “Character and the Presidency" October 3 at an event hosted by Grand Valley’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. 

The pair spoke about service to country and how a divisive political climate is driving qualified public servants away from the field.

“Politicians in Congress — the last five years the average IQ has probably gone down about 10 to 20 percent, all the good ones are leaving,” Brooks said jokingly. “Most of the people in Congress are good people who are stuck in a rotten system that they hate and they don’t know how to get out of.”

White said that the cultural shift in attitude toward distrusting the government is affecting the nation across the board regardless of political party affiliation. Despite that distrust, Brooks said, having faith in politics is still important.

“The ability to not care about politics is a luxury you have if you live in a healthy society,” Brooks said. “A lot of what’s wrong with politics is a failure of intellectual character. We need to work hard on having the ability to hold opinions but be flexible. We have to try to see opposing sides.”

Both speakers noted that culture has changed drastically in the United States recently.

“There’s a lot more engagement in the political process,” White said. “People are becoming more involved, and people are asking difficult questions and their level of personal engagement is increasing.”

But there is a deepening rift in American culture and between disparate segments of society, Brooks said, indicating he thinks connections between people are becoming less strong. 

“Every wound in the body politic is being torn further apart than it was a year ago. It’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild the social fabric,” Brooks said. “We are in a crisis of social solidarity. The connections, the social capital in this country, is in steep decline.”