SPLITTING AMERICA: How Politicians, Super PACs and the News Media Mirror High Conflict Divorce
Something nasty is happening in America. Have you noticed the trend? There's more bullying, more incivility, more disrespect and even more relationship violence between us at home, at work, in our communities and in the news. And, it seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. We have noticed a pattern to this behavior that is all too familiar: Personal Attacks, Crisis Emotions, All-or-Nothing Solutions, Narcissistic Behavior and Negative Advocates. We are well-acquainted with this pattern in high-conflict divorces from working with divorcing families over the past 30 years, and it's not good. This behavior is called "high-conflict" because it increases the conflict, rather than reducing or resolving it. Worst of all, it's contagious - it spreads when people are exposed to it, like a virus. Recently, political leaders in both parties appear to be adopting and escalating high-conflict behavior, and perhaps, even leading it. Millionaires and billionaires are funding expensive ads as key elements in high-conflict election campaigns. And, the news media promote high-conflict behavior in every broadcast - to children as well as to adults - by relentlessly showing, and thereby teaching, the most dramatic bad behavior of the day. We have seen this high-conflict behavior "split" too many families going through divorce, and we don't want to see it destroy the American family. We want to avoid a Democrat-Republican high-conflict divorce. This book, published just in time for the 2012 elections, focuses on the patterns of high-conflict behavior we are seeing today in today's politicians. There's even a scorecard for comparing candidates by looking at their patterns of behavior. This book is our small effort to calm this national conflict - for the good of the American family. Published just in time for the 2012 elections!
With divorce at all time highs and civility in politics at all time lows, I don't know what is more dispiriting - the alienating effect of high conflict on children or on voters. The parallels that the authors draw are striking and speak to the heart of a deep malaise in our society.
War-like language permeates every aspect of our lives and raises the anxiety level of the whole populace. It is no wonder that there are more handguns in the US than there are people! Candidates keep the pot simmering so they can come across as the hero who can save the day.
When listening to political discourse and media coverage, identifying narcissistic and high conflict behavior is not that difficult. Eddy and Saposnek suggest two litmus tests. Ask yourself, 1) "Is this really a crisis?" and 2) "Is this really a hero?"
While one can justifiably point a finger at the other side, irrespective of one's politics, that's not going to help turn the situation around. What will help is discernment. Stirring up fear and suspicion keeps media viewers and campaign contributors coming back, and if it also generates anger and hatred, well, that's show biz. It is up to us to buy into it or not. It is up to us as voters to demand honesty and civility of those we vote into office.
The authors offer some suggestions on how to reframe the debate using EAR - statements that reflect Empathy, Attention and Respect - and BIFF - responses that are Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. They call on politicians and media to return to self-imposed limits on high conflict rhetoric, and for a return of campaign disclosure laws. They point out that the Citizens United ruling of 2010 that led to the formation of Super PACs destroyed all vestiges of accountability and restraint in political advertising.
Are the authors confident of the future? Not really. They suggest it will get worse before it gets better, but at least by articulating the problem in this way, we might be more inspired to be the change we want to see and demand change in our institutions.