Loneliness, Polarization and Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal

Yesterday Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska released his second book titled, Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal. Senator Sasse believes Americans aren’t getting along so well. That in fact, polarization is so bad it is leading many to not simply disagree with but actually hate those who are on the other side of the political spectrum. Coming on the heels of the divisive Kavanaugh hearings and as a lead up to the midterm elections, Senator Sasse’s timely book release seeks to shed light on why our political discourse is so poorly fragmented.

From his perspective, the hate an individual feel towards “them” (one’s political opposition) is in large part due to the inherent breaking of “tribes.” On Fox News yesterday Sasse discussed how humans are relational beings, “that we are meant to be tribal with our families, with our friends, in our neighborhoods, in our workplace, and in our worshipping communities and that right now all these tribes have been undermined.”

Sasse points the finger at the digital revolution going on in America as the cause of this, and the evidence is quite disturbing.

The disintegration of these tribal spaces has resulted in loneliness becoming a major health epidemic, leading thousands of Americans to their early graves. Sasse refers to the decline in life expectancy in the U.S. over the past three years and the halving of friendship in America (average American went from 3.2 friends to 1.8 friends) over the past 27 years as indicative of declining mental health.

Echoing Robert Putnam’s 2000 bestseller book Bowling Alone, loneliness is in large part attributed to Americans participating less with others in their public and private lives, and it has led to some real consequences.

People now run to political tribes to fill the vacuum of social belonging that families, friends, and communities should be filling. America has a loneliness problem, and looking to Washington to legislate, adjudicate, or executive order the way out of it will just simply not work. Sasse calls them tribes; I call it community. Call it what you prefer, but either way policy won’t fix our inherent structural problem of polarization. Finding meaningful relationships will.

Jack Campbell is an intern at Center of the American Experiment.