The increasing polarization of American politics is the bane of our democracy and, as yet, no existing institution seems to have a handle on how to make a change. Well-meaning appeals for a return to pragmatism and centrism have failed, leaving the ship of state floundering in uncertain waters. The daunting complexity of the subject, which touches on all aspects of America’s political order, calls out for new perspectives, innovative thinking and unconventional approaches. Why has our nation become increasingly polarized? Why does the center lack sufficient cultural gravity to hold the electorate together? Are systemic issues at the root of the issue: campaign finance, gerrymandering, or the media’s obsession with the political horse races? Or are there deeper cultural issues at work, historical trends that can help us better explain and diagnose the clash of values that poisons our nation’s political system?
In early October 2014, a small gathering of leading public figures, academics, pundits, theorists, insiders and activists met to address the most vexing and important issue facing the country today—the growing tribalism of America’s political order. The meeting was a beachhead in beginning civil discourse between conservatives and liberals to bridge the divide. A fellowship was formed of the initial participants, intense and ongoing blogging among the fellowship is taking place, and a second conference was held in October 2015 to carry forward the work begun at Esalen.