The Purple Principle

Reading List

 What We’re Reading Now

Some books have compelling anecdotes, as this book does, most notably the interactions between the author, a progressive journalist and Digital Director at Braver Angels, and her Trump-supporting Mexican immigrant parents. Some books have important themes, which I Never Thought of It That Way certainly does, dealing with the challenge of cross-partisan dialogue that Braver Angels undertakes nationwide. Some books, especially scholarly titles, show mastery of subject matter, while relatively few books – and rarely the same ones – convey a narrative voice engaging enough to lift words off the page and into the ear, as if read aloud. “I began to see political polarization as the problem that eats other problems,” writes Guzman, “the monster who convinces us that the monsters are us.” I Never Thought of It That Way is that rare “all of the above” nonfiction book worth not only reading but sharing and offering up to Book Club. There are memorable anecdotes here, along with important themes, bolstered by informed research, and all told in lively, conversational prose. Highly recommended, it’s written by an eloquent TPP guest featured in Season 3, Episode 8: Like Family, Like Nation: A Braver Angel Mediates Polarization at Home & Nationwide.

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Four years on from publication, Political Tribes remains one of the most honest, insightful and important books regarding political polarization. “Humans are tribal,” the book begins and reminds us throughout. Yet, remarkably, this basic fact was widely ignored in American foreign policy toward Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among other tragic entanglements Chua chronicles. In the final two chapters, Chua, a Yale Law School Professor and also parent of some renown (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother), turns to American domestic tribalism where she is unflinching in criticism of both the rear-guard right and identity-obsessed left. “[A]t different times in the past,” she writes, “ both the American Left and the American Right have stood for group-transcending values. Neither does today.” Well worth reading despite and really because of any unease while reading.

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Is the nation’s polarization transforming Texas? In God Save Texas the distinguished author, Lawrence Wright, argues that some causality runs the other way: not Texas increasingly turning red like other conservative states, but other conservative states turning red like Texas. “The fact that ‘American’ can contain two such assertive, contrary forces as Texas and California is a testament to our political dynamism, but more and more I feel that ‘American’ is being compelled to make a choice between the models these states embody. Under the Trump administration, Texas is clearly the winning archetype. The wave of conservatism that rolled through so many statehouses and the three branches of the federal government makes the entire country look more like Texas.”

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Stephen Harrigan, a novelist and close friend of Lawrence Wright’s, spent nine years researching his history of Texas. He concurs that in many respects, Texas is big and wonderful enough to shape the world around it. “The State has nation-sized measurements: 268,000 square miles in all, 827 road miles from its westernmost city, El Paso, to Beaumont, near the Louisiana border. But it’s insistent and imposing sense of itself has created a vast mythical mindscape as well. Because it looms large in the world’s imagination and in fact is large, Texas has a history that is of consequence not just to itself, and not just to the nations it was once part of, or the nation it briefly became. It sits at the core of the American experience, and its wars, its industries, its presidents, its catastrophes, its scientific discoveries have never stopped shaping the world.”

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George Packer, ex of the New Yorker and now of the Atlantic, is one of our most valuable political social observers. His 2012 National Book Award-winning The Unwinding humanized the deep economic suffering of Rust Belt America made more painful by the opioid epidemic. But it also broadened that social lens with portraits of major political and culture figures of this era, including Colin Powell, Newt Gingrich and JayZ. We look forward to digging into Packer’s latest, Last Best Hope, for both his reportorial and prescriptive acumen.

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Will Hurd’s American Reboot is a practical yet personable reminder that there are ready solutions to America’s problems and articulate problem solvers who transcend the political divide. Hurd, a moderate Black Republican with CIA experience, lost his first Congressional run in the largely Democratic and Hispanic 23rd district of South Texas stretching 800 miles along the Mexican border. He then rebooted and ran again, winning not one but three consecutive terms. His can-do ethos permeates the book, as well as our Purple Principle interview. Immigration gridlock? Hurd had been part of the bipartisan group that nearly pulled off DACA legislation in 2018. In American Reboot, he points to the easing of legal immigration requirements as a much-needed pressure release for illegal immigration. Politicized Foreign Policy? Hurd makes US foreign policy simple, yet sensible: Enemies Should Fear Us, Friends Should Love Us. He also speaks to the ever growing importance of technological parity, if not superiority, in foreign policy battles with China, and others, going forward. Hurd has refreshing, simple, yet savory advice for his own political party, the GOP, in the section, “Don’t be an Asshole, Racist, Misogynist, or Homophobe.” Good advice anytime, but especially in light of the extreme rhetoric and positioning Trump loyalists have adopted this primary season. Hurd is also unsparing in his criticisms of Democratic political theatrics. Charismatic yet pragmatic, Hurd is a refreshingly-authentic and informed voice on much-needed change in American politics and policy. And his American Reboot is an ambitious, yet realistic, blueprint for a country long on rhetoric but short on action.

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From Season 2 Podcast Guests

Liberal democracy is in serious trouble, at home and abroad. And for Russia scholar, security consultant and exceptional writer-observer Tom Nichols, that is a tragically disappointing development. Yet Nichols does not conveniently place the blame on a small coterie of leaders, a single political party or even the pernicious effects of social media. His main concern is that American citizens have lost interest in the hard work of democracy: staying informed, accepting compromise, volunteering for civic groups and governance, voting for rational leaders. Citing the famous line, “the enemy is us,” Nichols makes an eloquent case that Americans better get their civic house in order or wake up one day to a nation with severely curtailed possibilities.

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Why do members of the U.S. Congress today “cross the aisle” less than ever before in U.S. history? Neural psychologists Jay Van Bavel and Dominic Packer explain this and other partisan phenomena in their highly readable exploration of group identities: how they shape human behavior, both for better and for worse. For example, Van Bavel and Packer, longtime friends and collaborators (and our upcoming TPP guests) explain how loyalty to in-groups and hostility to out-groups have herded us toward our current state of polarization. But harnessing the unifying power of social identities can also be a way out of this mess. The authors combine simple summaries of research (by themselves and others) with illustrative real-life examples for an important book that is informative and accessible.

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“Climate change is a hoax—and vaccines are ineffective.” We’ve all encountered people who, contrary to all evidence, refuse to accept the scientific consensus on important issues. Some claim to know better than the experts; others say scientists are part of a conspiracy. Regardless, it can be tempting to ignore or avoid science deniers since discussions with them can be aggravating and fruitless. In his most recent book, Boston University philosopher of science Lee McIntyre (TPP Season 2, Ep20 guest: When Anti-Science Makes the Menu) took the opposite approach, pro-actively engaging with anti-vaxxers and GMO food alarmists as well as coal miners on global warming and flat earthers on, well, real earth. McIntyre elucidates these often surprising encounters with the most relevant academic research, pointing towards a better mode of communication with science deniers: one steeped in respect and humility rather than exasperation and condescension.

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With humor, humility, and compassion, TPP guest Tania Israel has written a great and accessible resource for those who would like to move beyond their bubbles without bursting too many other bubbles, or relationships in the process. Not easily or quickly done at this deeply polarized time in the US. But Dr. Israel, a social psychologist at UC Santa Barbara, delineates the process in her “Flowchart that will resolve all political conflict” while providing helpful examples from two decades of workshops on divisive issues.

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After five decades of increasing polarization in the U.S., is there an easy way out of our tribalized two party death spiral? By cautioning against quick fixes and painless remedies, Columbia psychologist and Purple Principle guest Peter T. Coleman provides a much-needed reality check for this all-important discussion. Drawing on decades of research from his Difficult Conversations Lab at Columbia, Dr. Coleman details proven methods by which dialogue advances and conflicts resolve even while cautioning it won’t be easy applying them to American political and social polarization.

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An eclectic, engaging and frequently surprising how-to of a politics communication book from the creators of the podcast, Pantsuit Politics. Beth and Sarah have an intuitive grasp of the psychology that makes so much political discourse distasteful. And they’ve had hundreds of hours of on-air experience navigating around the pitfalls and trigger points. It’s grace-filled compassion that’s surprisingly fun and optimistic.

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Omar H. Ali’s book conveys the rich history of Black politics outside the two-party framework to which we’ve become so inured. His account shows that a powerful and long-running lineage of Black political leaders nurtured movements that began on the periphery yet pushed mainstream forces closer to racial justice over time.

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This primer, by Purple Principle guests Nick Capodice and Hannah McCarthy (Hosts of NHPR’s Civics 101), is a well-crafted, well-illustrated, and easy-to-read handbook for American government and politics. Those looking for a boring textbook need not read further, as Capodice and McCarthy utilize humor and wit to keep their audience engaged and enthused. Those looking for a hip take and tone, read on.

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What if we carefully inject a bit of blue perspective into the social media feeds of conservatives and a bit of red into liberal feeds? Surely, our not so United States would become less polarized in the process. Except, as it turns out, we might become even more polarized. That’s one of many counter-intuitive findings described in this important new book by Dr. Chris Bail, Director of the Duke University Polarization Lab. This interdisciplinary group is working to better understand social media and reverse its negative effects.

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This 2019 book by Purple Principle guest Dr. Steven Hassan makes the case that the former President’s hold over his followers has all the makings of a cult. Lured into the Unification Church at a young age, Hassan has made a lifelong study of cult leadership and followings, deftly applying that here to the contemporary political and media environment.

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Sometimes an age-old, seemingly intractable problem needs a fresh set of eyes. Co-authors Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter provide that viewpoint in this originally conceived, clearly-conveyed diagnosis of, and prescription for, gridlock and polarization in U.S. politics. Not only a fresh set of eyes on the problem, the book also identifies a well-planned path forward toward more incentivized politicians and results. Highly recommended for any and all who’ve wondered why politics works so well for politicians, so poorly for the rest of us.

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Why is the United States the only major democracy with a supermajority requirement for legislation? Former Senate staffer and TPP guest Adam Jentleson puts his education in history to work to explain the origin of the filibuster and how it has evolved over time. Jentleson argues that the filibuster must be eliminated because in its current form it overrides democracy by killing policy that only small minorities of the public oppose in the name of minority rights. The filibuster is a difficult subject on which independents have many opinions, so we encourage you to read his book and make up your own mind.

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Harvard political scientist Ryan Enos explores the indelible influence of geography on our behavior, decision-making, and identities in this 2017 book. Paying close attention to the spaces between us, or the gaps, both literal and figurative, that constitute our social lives, Enos combines the scientific rigor of his case studies with insightful and vivid descriptions of places and the emotional and psychological ties we form with them.

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Much has been said about Newt Gingrich being the precursor to Donald Trump. But here is a thoroughly researched and highly readable history of the primary episode by which Gingrich opened the doors to a new and nastier form of politics. Zelizer is a master story-teller, giving us just enough of Gingrich’s early years and political awakening for full appreciation of the impact this one individual would have on an entire nation’s political culture.

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From Season 1 Podcast Guests

Many Americans may have only fully absorbed the hard right turn of the Republican party during the Trump presidency. But Rule and Ruin documents the decline of moderation in the Republican party as far back as the 1964 Barry Goldwater nomination. Currently Director of Policy Studies the Niskanen Center, Dr. Kabaservice, featured on Episode 17, is a skilled historian and lucid writer with an unfortunate but important tale to tell. An essential book for independent-minded Americans wondering what happened to the diversity of opinion within Republican politics.

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As we struggle to achieve legislative compromise on key issues in the 2020s, this 2017 book informs us in varied and important ways. First, the inside story of Altmire’s bipartisan efforts during the Obama Presidency, and the political attacks incurred from the right and the left. In addition, there is informed discussion on our polarizing primary system and its huge contribution to legislative gridlock. Last but not least, there’s an excellent review of relevant polling and psychological research on hyperpartisanship, such as when partisan respondents define compromise as getting their way. An underappreciated gem of a book for those concerned about polarization.

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Dr. Robert Elliott Smith has many cautionary tales to tell about the simplifications of human nature throughout history by scientists, economists, educators, policymakers, and, most recently, computer programmers. That’s interesting because Dr. Smith (University College London) is himself a computer scientist and expert in artificial intelligence (AI). He details how AI provides great value in engineering applications. Yet he’s greatly alarmed by the AI-driven search engine and social media algorithms currently helping to polarize civil society into distinctly hostile factions.

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Is fear the one emotion that clarifies the full range of human behavior? Georgetown neuropsychologist Abigail Marsh, our guest on Episode 4, makes a strong case for that in this book, a well-executed synthesis of three different genres. While not a book about political psychology, The Fear Factor does shed light on the fear-based effectiveness of polarizing media, campaigns, and candidates. It also suggests overcoming fear and enabling altruism may be the key to healthy individuals, groups, and societies.

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The idea of a possible third, more centrist party is back in vogue these days, with Andrew Yang the latest former major party candidate to get on that bandwagon. But Charles Wheelan, founder of Unite American and former congressional candidate, was a good decade ahead of current efforts with publication of this 2013 book. Concise, informed and still highly relevant, Wheelan, a former Economist magazine correspondent, makes both political and economic complexities highly accessible. A quick, painless, informative and engaging read highly recommended here at The Purple Principle.

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