It might not feel like there's a way to end our polarised society, but there is: Interview with Prof James Fishkin

It might not feel like there's a way to end our polarised society, but there is: Interview with Prof James Fishkin

Catherine Neilan

16:45 7th January 2021

The events in Washington yesterday were both shocking and entirely predictable.

After Donald Trump gave his supporters the final encouragement they needed, he stood back and watched as protesters stormed the Capitol building, where legislators were certifying the election results.

Despite an apparent reluctance on the part of Boris Johnson to say so, Trump's involvement in this latest moment of shame for his part in US democracy is not to be doubted. He told supporters to "walk down to the Capitol", adding: "You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong."

In the ensuing chaos four people died, including a woman who was shot by police officers.

This morning the 45th president finally conceded his defeat, promising an "orderly transition" - although characteristically did it begrudgingly, saying "I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out" - although they don't.

In just under two weeks, or less if Chuck Schumer has his way, Trump will no longer be in charge of the world's largest economy - or have his finger near the nuclear button. Hopefully, as his power ebbs, his debatable "right" to continued access to social media platforms will also be reviewed and the temporary suspensions imposed by Twitter, Facebook and others made permanent.

But it is clear that this will not be the end of Trump, or Trumpism. His concession statement - posted via a spokesman following his exclusion from the very platform that enabled his rise to power - left us in no doubt on that front.

"While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it's only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again," he said.

It didn't take long for Trump to find another platform willing to enable him to share his thoughts: within hours of the Twitter ban, he has cropped up on Parler, the so-called "free speech" platform which has already attracted many whose comments have earned them temporary suspensions or partial "censorship".

While some might feel a certain degree of relief that the antagonist-in-chief appears to be being sidelined, we shouldn't be too quick to welcome this move.

After all, conspiracies like QAnon have been fuelled by fringe accounts on the outer reaches of the web, where mainstream voices are not heard or able to sense-check what is being said.

If Trump supporters follow him onto an entirely distinct platform, it might feel as though the problem has gone away but in reality it will be building and brewing, and biding its time.

We have to hope that the inauguration on January 20 is not "a flash point" for his supporters, as former UK ambassador to the US Lord Darroch warned this morning. But even after that moment is over, we must not ignore this toothache in the hope it will go away. After all, Trump might be the trigger of this latest crisis in democracy, but he is not the cause.

It is tempting to fear that all this might lead inexorably to a civil war, or to describe what we are seeing as one already. But we can still claw things back.

In the launch episode of Making Common Ground's podcast, I spoke with Professor James Fishkin, Stanford University's professor of political science and director of Stanford's Center for Deliberative Democracy.

We discussed how deliberative democracy - an approach he pioneered and has been championing for more than 30 years - can be used to help depolarise our communities, even when emotions are high and positions entrenched.

His work repeatedly shows that through regular discussion between disparate groups of people, extreme views can be moderated and compromise made.

This is something we will also be exploring ourselves, through our monthly discussion group, which you can read more about here.

You can listen to the full episode below - or you can find it wherever you get your podcasts - and sign up to our newsletter for weekly interviews and updates from Making Common Ground.

You can also take part yourself, by filling out our questionnaire and applying to participate in future rounds.

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Tags: Podcast Donald Trump Brexit Democracy Open dialogue Protest Conspiracy theories Deliberative Democracy Social Media Podcast