Why is Our Nation So Divided?

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BILL MOYERS: "Why do you think our nation is so divided? Is it because we’re so diverse or is there something else at work here?" Thanks for your question.

Well I think it’s human nature at work, don’t you? And it has been ever thus. Read Genesis where the Bible's First Family is so contentious that young Joseph was dumped in a pit by his brothers and left to die. He escaped, made his way to Egypt, and -- well, you know the rest. Here in America, the colonists were so divided that one third fought for independence, one third remained loyal to the Crown, and the other third stayed on the sidelines better to exploit whatever outcome the Revolutionary War produced. We were so divided over slavery we went to war, turning families against families, neighbors against neighbors and the soil red with each other's blood.

Politics is an alternative to fratricide but it's no pacifier of our conflicts over issues that touch our deepest emotions, like: taxes, abortion, immigration, sexuality--you name it. The ambition for power and especially the control of government brings out the martial spirit that in our better days we manage to subdue, for the sake of sure survival. Sometimes just to remind myself of how much we can disagree and dislike each other, I go back to read the marshal speech Robert Ingersoll made when he nominated James G. Blaine for President at the National Republican Convention in 1876: "Like an armed warrior, like a plumed knight, James G. Blaine marched down the halls of the American Congress and threw his shining lances full and fair against the brazen foreheards of every traitor to his country and every maligner of its honor." If that makes you think of the TV commercials hurled in salvo after salvo in Iowa today, you get the point. We are a querulous people. Civilization is but a thin veneer of civility stretched across the passions of the human heart. And civilization doesn't just happen; we have to make it happen. And that's not easy. Thanks for your question.


Robert Ingersoll’s 1876 speech nominating James D. Blaine

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  • Ginnystearns

    Bill – Thank you so much for these fabulously hard hitting shows about the reality of crony capitalism. It has brought me to tears to see what has happened to our democratic dream.

    I urge you to look into the bigger picture framing this economic calamity which is that our global economy is bumping into the limits of the planet in the immediate forms of peak oil and climate change. The 2008 crash was precipitated by a spike in oil prices, an increasing problem in the future as cheap fossil fuels are depleted.  I recommend authors Richard Heinberg (The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality), David Holmgren (Future Scenarios; How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change) and Paul Gilding (The Great Disruption: Why Climate Change Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.) 
    Certain groups deeply attached to unfettered Free Enterprise have successfully  sowed enough doubt about the reality of Climate Change to millions of Americans and kept the topic off the national agenda. Time to head off likely irreversible warming is very short: maybe 5 years. This is criminal! Most straightforward on this one is Naomi Klein’s article “Capitalism vs. the Climate” in “The Nation” November 9, 2011.
    Thank you so so much for talking so straight about these crucial issues.

  • Anonymous

    The USDA was forced recently to revise hardiness zones (a strong climate indicator) northward in order to remain relevant to botanical interests. The last change to these maps was in 1990 and involved only more accuracy in describing micro-climates. They remained about the same for decades before that. How can anyone stay in denial when the industrial application of scientific data requires such an adjustment. Look for your plant catalogs to reflect this change. (see USDA site) Maybe the right wing radicals will demand the zones be changed back or such information be completely suppressed. The CIA and the DOD have made equivalent adjustments in strategic planning. 

    Ginnystearns is correct that ecological vulnerability makes reform of our political economy all the more urgent, and is a good argument for civil action. Empire will not survive climate change so why not abandon it before we are forced by catastrophic events.

  • http://www.garykleppe.org/ Gary

    I really think it’s more than that. The right-wingers don’t just disagree on policy, they have their own reality and will deny anything that doesn’t fit into it.

  • Michael Freed, Santa Fe, NM

    I believe much of the divisiveness can be traced to the abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine by Ronald Reagan and an acquiescent Congress.  Before that point, the media, in our granting them a license to use OUR airwaves, had an obligation to present issues with fairness.  They could be fined or even lose their license if they were shown to abuse their privilege in broadcasting.  Journalism then, had a duty to present issues in a fair minded way with great ethics concerning honesty and accuracy.  Since the loss of the Fairness Doctrine, extremism has gone berserk.  Opinions can be presented as “news” with no consequences.  This is what enables Fox”news” and others to run rampant in accusations, misinformation, disinformation, fear-baiting, and outright lies.  The “Fourth Estate”, an informed electorate, the cornerstone of our Democracy has been undermined in favor of corporate interests, partisan propaganda, and selfish agendas.  We have now had 30 years of one-sided news presentation so that a whole generation has grown up receiving whichever “side” they choose for their information.  

    I think this is a key concept in understanding why we are more divided than ever.

  • Dbaker

    This may not be seen as on topic, and could be interpreted by some as hate speech — but I hope that is not the case.  It seems to me that much of the divide in the US, and the world at present, is due to religious fundamentalism of one variety or another, and the translation of those fundamentalist beliefs into political positions and actions.

    Radical Muslims may believe that the entire world should be one Islamic State. Israel would seem to serve as an example for other people around the world to take back those lands that “their” God (surely the one true God), gave them.  The Sioux get the plains, the Innuit get northernmost North Amercia (and other lands), the aboriginal people of Australia get to kick out the rest of us, as do the peoples of Africa, and South America, and Siberia, etc. etc.

    I grew up in Kansas — a state that once was home to many progressive ideas — abolition of slavery, free speech rights, workers rights, the rights of small farmers, etc.  Now, it’s my belief that by turning fundamentalist Christians into single issue voters (abortion, homosexuality and now dominionism), Kansas has been turned into a Red State laughingstock that has tried to outlaw teaching evolution, has seen an abortion provider murdered (IN his church), and where it seems the people will vote against their own economic, environmental and social interests, in favor of the idea of a more “Christian” form of government.

    Each of the major religions falls prey to this singlemindedness.  They are based on something that must be believed, without proof.  Once a person is over that hurdle, they can believe many things that can’t be proved, and ignore the facts that are in evidence in the world.  And they can take strong, fierce positions against the unbelievers, the unfaithful, the other . . .

    Discourse and bi-partisanship then become difficult, if not impossible.

  • A. Ward

    After seeing your show reflecting upon the strains on the middle class, I can’t help but wonder what is dividing an otherwise extremely powerful majority displaced by a concentration of capital in the hands of a few.  Has an entrenchment related to dogma (on both the left and right) become more powerful than what is in the best interest of the majority?  It seems to have obscured a view of the growing economic chasm.

  • Pkramer469

      Well said.

  • leftofcenter

    It’s divided for several reasons. First, rampant racism. Just check out recent You Tube comments about Obama and his family. NPR runs a clip of many Gingrich supporters saying racist stuff about Obama. Not once does any reporter say, hang on a minute! This is seriously messed up! This is considered “normal politics”. If you’re not tough enough to take it, then just quit and go home.

    What adds to class warfare (yes, it does exist)? The attitude of weakness isn’t tolerated. If you’re not where you want to be in life, it’s all your fault and no one else’s. Jerry Sandusky is accused of “alleged” sex abuse. Meanwhile, many Penn State seniors are more concerned about how this “bad press” will jepordize their future job prospects than the welfare of the victims/survivors in this case.

    This just shows that for not all but many people they stick to an “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” mentality. As long as it doesn’t personally affect me, it doens’t exist.

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn made a good point in an old interview. Lots of Americans talk about our democracy is the greatest.  Now, how many of them would be willing to die for their beliefs? If the One Percent really believe that the current capitalist system is part of “our freedom”, how many would put their life on the line for it? Answer: how many really rich people do you see in the military?

  • Maggieno

    Does anyone teach Civics anymore? I learned about the American system from my first-generation parents AND from some pretty thorough civic lessons in junior high and high school. My classes were taught by people who taught more than just surface myths, too. We discussed difficult questions and current events. 

    A lot of the “history” people know today is based on movies, TVs, and children’s mythology.I believe that Civic classes should be required for everyone, and in age-appropriate doses. And that the teachers must have certificates proving training in the subject from college-level sources.No one is “born” American. America is an idea, not a piece of land or a physical heritage. As befitting an idea, how to be American must be taught to each generation. We must be taught rhetoric and how to listen to what people say, slicing through the persuasion and bias, to the core of ideas. AND we must be taught that cooperation and compromise are the bedrocks of America — without them, our system totally falls down.

  • Dbaker

    I agree that the demise of the Fairness Doctrine has been greatly responsible for the place we’ved arrived at.  But, I wonder if we required time for the other side to respond today, as we did in those days when someone was presenting opinion rather than “fact”, would we be left with the extremists making their position, and the other extremists responding across the great divide we’ve arrived at.

    At least, the two postions would be closely linked temporally, and could be compared.

    Lewis Powell’s 1971 secret memo (before he was on the Supreme Court), and the election of Ronald Reagan seem to be the beginning of the end of America as it was when I was a child — resulting in the plutocratic, corporate-focused society we are in today.

    But, we must ask WHAT can we do now? And we need good answers to that question.

  • Ron

    The New Yorker had a great cartoon a few years ago: one man says to another, “If this is the age of information, why doesn’t anybody know anything?” Understanding the complexities of political & economic ideas requires indepth analysis through careful reading. Most people in this country get their ideas from the media, from pundits who have policital and commercial agendas; and, trying to sort out the truth of issues requires critical thinking (I think it was once taught in public schools and universities.) Remember the WMDs George Bush said were found in Iraq? Years after he insisted on the truth of that false information, over half of Americans believed that WMDs had indeed been found in Iraq. It’s easy to lead Americans and to set once faction against another. It’s easy to cause Americans to overeat to the point of obesity. It’s easy to foster the belief that Americans are special and deserve anything they want, even if they can’t pay for it. The tool is propaganda, or in other words: marketing and advertising. The current political climate is the crazy spinoff of the Bush administration’s “you’re either with us or against us” mentality. I wonder how we lost the sense of “united we stand, divided we fall.”

  • Ieva

    Notions of good and evil hardening into absolutes and ideologies make constructive dialogue difficult.  I like this poem by Denise Levertov:


    The tree of knowledge was the tree of reason.
    That’s why the taste of it
    drove us from Eden.  That fruit
    was meant to be dried and milled to a fine powder
    for use a pinch at a time, a condiment.
    God had probably planned to tell us later
    about this new pleasure. 
                                                  We stuffed our mouths full of it,
    gorged on “but” and “if” and “how” and again
    “but,” knowing no better.
    It’s toxic in large quantities; fumes
    swirled in our heads and around us
    to form a dense cloud that hardened to steel,
    a wall between us and God, Who was Paradise.
    Not that God is unreasonable — but reason
    in such excess was tyranny
    and locked us into its own limits, a polished cell
    reflecting our own faces.  God lives
    on the other side of that mirror,
    but through the slit where the barrier doesn’t
    quite touch ground, manages still
    to squeeze in — as filtered light,
    splinters of fire, a strain of music heard
    then lost, then heard again.

  • Sunny

    Good points made… but going back to thoughts 100 years ago may not totally apply to a planet that is changing, and shrinking due to technology, as fast as it is in today’s world. This causes people to see, up front, different cultures, religions and concepts magnified, and having to face differences that they haven’t really wanted to see and could block in the past.
     Change causes fear. Fear causes defensive behavior which in turn creates more rage than understanding and compromise.  There is a greater movement to “spiritually” over religion, with more and more people recognizing that religions are human interpretations of God to explain the “big picture” and “his” rules to live by. Considering the world conflicts caused by differing religions, all of which believe that their religion is the “only” right one, a balance must eventually be found but in the mean time…  Change generally requires an upheaval first.

  • Iowa Grandma

    I would agree that this is a part, but only a part of why.  Another part I might think is that we, ordinary people, seem to have no power to change anything for the better.  The money people seem to have all of the power and they only have greed for themselves.  When that is added to the effect of religions it seems unstoppable.  Everyone does not want to be uber-wealthy, most of us just want enough.

  • Sabine Mann

    Dear Bill ,
    I am a big fan of you and your shows but I am disappointed at the lack hard questions asked. I was very disappointed about the fact that you let John Reed get away with glorifying himself and distancing himself from the terrible things he has done while indicting his cronies for the same behaviors, how hypocritical and self-serving of him! You should have called him on that. 
    Sabine Mann

  • Larry

    I appreciate and “like”your comments, I am a veteran of the Vietnam conflict,June 15, 1965, and for the next 18 months in country, I assure you I did not meet a person of wealth,[of course that excludes the officer class].  I like Bill Moyers, and have for a long time,, his “diplomacy”, and perhaps, just perhaps, his “job”, keeps him, and others of his “ike”, from relating all information that they might be priveledged to.  Then again, as a “old man”, I do apprciate, I Could Be Wrong!

  • Larry

    I was raised in a family very much “conditioned” in fundamentalist teachings,  the King James Bible, being the provider.  Life experience for me, has revealed that this was, and is a problem, I think now, believe what you want,,,,after “o2″ leaves your body,it will be a throw of the dice.

  • Patriciacooper


     You are looking at religious reasons, you know it is
    easy to see how a few power hungry wealthy leaders are manipulating the
    poor Islam people. They convince the poor that God deems it. They get people to
    do horrible things in the name of God. They brainwash them to believe that the
    west is evil. We can see it plain as day but we don’t see how our own
    Christians are being manipulated or by who. Yet it is happening. Do the Islam
    see plan as day what is happening to Christians as we do them? Using religion
    to manipulate people is the strongest most insidious way to get people to do
    things that otherwise is against their best interest. I am a Christian and I am
    extremely saddened by what is happening in the Christian community today. They
    have been infiltrated by some who have paid SO CALLED leaders to write books
    and teach on the radio by very wealthy business people. They want the
    Christians to hate their own Government. This is America, We are the
    government! They preach stories about the end days one world government. It
    makes the Christians afraid of their own government. In truth it doesn’t say
    “one world government” in the Bible it says a one world Leader that different
    kingdoms are under. Those people who are manipulating the Christian Community
    are most likely where that one world leader will come from. They lobby and
    Who knows what else our congress and supreme court. They are close to being in
    charge of the government now. No I disagree with you Dbaker, it isn’t religion
    that divides us. It is an insidious insider masquerading as religious that is
    doing the dividing. The way to a united people again is threw understanding
    that, and lovingly show or expose the rats in the cabarets. If you just say religion
    is what’s wrong you contribute to the division unintentionally. I don’t know
    what all their names are but I do know one name that is one of those rats, FOX.
    It is hard to not insult a fox watcher while trying to tell them how bad fox is
    but it can be done. Mr. Moyer was right that there has always been division in
    the US but is it right to just except that and set quite? I don’t think so.

  • Patriciacooper

     Push to have the Corporate loopholes closed in congress. REGULATE them!
    They have tried to make the word regulate a dirty word. Be a thorn in
    the butt of your congressman and push for an investigation into fox. Re-educate  our children and remind our parents of the way it was before as you wrote above.
    Fox has targeted the poor and elderly, it is the only news many people
    who live in the country can get on the airwaves. People who can’t aford
    cable or satelite. Then if you look at the satelite programing the
    cheepest groups of channels has only fox in many places. The elderly are
    at home all day and are being pumped full of garbage constantly. I have
    been reading where Murdoch has been pushing threw the heritage
    foundation for our public schools to be turned into private schools we
    (the government) pays for saying that the schools are better and useing
    the Christians desire to get God back in schools to get their support.
    Murdoch also said he wants to have the classrooms hooked up to the
    internet (new teck ) but he wants to streamline fox into the classroom.
    Target the children. Fox needs to be stopped.

  • Patriciacooper

     The congressmen who vote to go to war should be made to send one of their children with the first strike. We also need to stop this war on terror. That is just a term that gives the President free hands to start battles at his will.

  • Patriciacooper

     Your not wrong dear, Bill Moyers is the most honest man on TV today. From one old lady to one old man.

  • Iowa Grandma

    Even Poor & Elderly have access to PBS & NPR.  I don’t have cable or Satellite and don’t plan to.  I have been a PBS watcher for more years than I count.
    PBS news, Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose, Frontline. Nova, Masterpiece & the childrens shows are the best for even news, only commercials are for their own programs.  And the price is free, but I do get the membership. Support them if you can.

  • “M”

    Reading some of the comments, I suppose you can direct the blame toward religion or the media, but some folks might be missing the point. 

    WE, the people, elected these politicians to their respective positions…they however, have forgotten who put them where they are, and they should be licking OUR boots, not the other way around.  (Or worse…licking the boots of the lobbiest’s with the most $).

    There must be a way for US to implement an accountability system…if you don’t perform proficiently…you’re out! 

    Isn’t this what was suggested for our teacher’s?  What’s good for the goose SHOULD be good for the gander.  

    I’ve watched your shows Bill, (glad that you’re back, BTW), and the term “too big to fail” has been bandied about in reference to some of the BIG companies…I think I may now understand why out politician’s see themselves as “untouchable”, they’re of the very same mindset as these big companies. 

    Humans can be very greedy, indeed.  When you can vote in your own raises and make yourself the exception to the rules that everyone else must follow…unfortunately the result is what we see now…politician’s devoted to their PARTY…not their constituents.   

    The truth be known…I am SICK TO DEATH of the dirt and slander and the utter nonsense that one candidate/party throws at another (hello…are we in Junior High here)?

    Representing US citizen’s is an honor and a responsibility, not a stepping stone to being a millionaire/billionaire,  or serving your own agenda!

    The sad part is that being human’s we tend to believe the worst.. shame on us for being such naive sheep. I certainly hope that now; as most of us are feeling the “pain”, we’re beginning to wake up.

    Bill, the 1/10th of the 1 percent may come to realize that “having it all” may catch up to them.  When everything crumbles around them…just remember… 1/10th of nothing is still nothing!

    God Help Us!


  • Harmsdad

    Iowa Grandpa – we have the ultimate power and it’s called “VOTE”.  As long as we continue to accept this “two party” system by voting for one or the other of them, then we continue to manifest the problem.  I feel we should cast our vote for any congressional or senatorial candidate other than a republican (or tea party) or democrat.  If we all do that, then the 2 parties will perhaps get the message that we are fed up with their antics and unconcern for the populace.

  • Anonymous

    Humans can be very, very greedy, M. I agree with that, but they don’t have to be.
    Normal working people have joined the greed frenzy for two obvious reasons.
    1. They sense that this system is failing and they are afraid. They hoard and grasp in mimicry of  the wealthy classin an effort  to prepare for harder times.
    2. Humans can be very, very deferential to wealth and power. Our institutions both teach such deference and intimidate the individual. I kid people and say they have a jackpot mentality and expect to get rich someday, but that’s not the biggest problem. Most of us witness our peers who try to do right things punished every day. It often happens at work where ownership rules over everything. It can happen anywhere and there are even counter-insurgents operating here on this blog. Moyers cannot guarantee our privacy. Some of us will be reprimanded.

    Solidarity among  the people, we who are in a similar fix, is the only countermeasure remaining to the People. I believe Moyers is trying to get us to converse with one another and organize resistance. But if you re-read #2 above you can understand why Moyers is limited in his tactics and why that dream is so remote.

    Concentration of wealth and power is the main divider today. People like me want to deconstruct that injustice. Our misguided opponents want to intensify it in the faint hope that they may benefit, or at least gain alms from a wealthy patron. What a horrible life where neither side can depend on hard work or study, diligence and morality to bring rewards. All around us we see that a few criminals gain it all.
    When the population comes under the control of an Oligarchy natural abilities to co-operate and organize are squashed. Those in charge allow us nothing, so that hyper capitalism appears to exclude all other possibilities. If this thing goes much farther in its deterioration we’ll be living in a death camp located in a failed state.

  • Donna Cohen

    I read once that the great differences in this country – it being so big- is both our greatest blessing and our greatest challenge..

  • Donna Cohen

    I like your thoughts, although I don’t think it’s necessary to have a certificate of training in the subject to help others understand some basic civics. I have a teaching background and plan to research ways to teach some basic Civics to adults. Our Occupy movement in Portland [OR] has a large education contingent and we are developing workshops on many important topics. One of my goals to is add workshops on this topic to be presented to adults in and out of Occupy.

    Meanwhile, our Secretary of State has developed, in conjunction with teachers, a curriculum for public schools. So many schools have dropped Civics from courses.

    Check out the effort backed by Sandra Day O’Connor, “iCivics” http://www.icivics.org Very interesting lessons, useful for both children and adults.

  • Alan Meyer

    I understand your frustration with the two American political parties but the real problems can only be solved by having a specific program.  Replacing the existing politicians with other people chosen just because they are not associated with the existing politicians is what the tea party did.  It failed.  We need to elect people with specific ideas and commitments.  What matters is commitment to the poor and middle class, not party affiliation.  There are many Democratic incumbents and even a few Republicans who are so committed.  We have to support them, not throw them out.

  • Alan Meyer

    I agree.  Politics is a struggle of interests, first and foremost, economic interests.  As DBAKER argued, religion can be used to divide people.  As you argue, it is an effective tool of the wealthy to recruit supporters who are not wealthy and whose interests are against the wealthy, but they can be manipulated with religion.

    Racism used to play this role and still does to some extent.  But racism is now largely discredited in the US and religion has come to play a similar political role.

  • K Boynton

    Bill, I think you touched on a large part of the problem when you referred to our brutal natures clothed in Brooks Brothers suits (my phrase).  Nothing has really changed in our natures, and now we are high-tech bullies, using the media to destroy each other with half-truths and lies.  Almost makes one long for a simpler, more innocent time – like when we wrote letters, and scandals hit after we were dead!

    But I think you are also right to focus in you Sunday morning program on how the serious mishandling of money has been the undoing of our culture; the unsubtle greed and nastiness, the blatant hustling, attest to its permeation into every corner of American life.  Isn’t it safe to say that our politics have been, for many decades now, the place where our representatives go to get rich, or to stay rich?  Put simply, any change that removes even a small amount of the influence that money buys is untenable.  And, as we have seen, it buys a lot.

    The only thing I want at this point is for enough regulation that when things go bust due to nothing I have done, I don’t suffer for it.

    Thanks again, Bill, for your wisdom and for giving your viewers reasoned, and reasonable, talk.

    Kevin Boynton
    Fort Worth Teacher

  • Bnedlaw

    Bill, I’ve followed your programs for many years now, and you never fail to ask actual questions that are relevant to current events.  Thank you for all you efforts.  I want to ask, why is rational discourse on events that affect our people and our nation so hard to find now?  We don’t listen, and it seems whoever shouts the loudest and most often is the one who gets the most attention, regardless of position.

    Thanks in advance,
    Brad Walden

  • Carol Davidek-Waller

    I was very disappointed in Jonathan Haidt’s take on the our ‘divided nation’.  In my opinon he took the easy way out and his ‘pop’ sociology rang false.
    The divisions he touts are psychological only to the point of how one group of people, with less access to information and fewer tools to analyze what they are being told, are being deliberately misled by those that are hoarding wealth and power.
    The Tea Party never was and is not now a populist movement. It has funded and guided from the beginning by the ultra wealthy. The agenda says it all; an agenda that disproportionately benefits the haves and disenfranchises the have nots.  
    If you look at public opinion by issue, 70% of us are ‘liberal’. If we had a functional media instead a corporate echo chamber, it’s likely that figure would be much higher.
    The economic elite are making a deliberate effort to divide us by using their media and spokespersons to focus on ‘wedge’ issues that are personal and trigger powerful emotions. Issues that government has very little legitmate role to play. 
    Meanwhile, our real problems in which we need government to play a strong role
    like the collapse of the global economic system,  gross economic injustice, restoring the environment, global warming and attaining lasting peace are unaddressed.  
    In a climate of tolerance, our differences would not divide us. Today, tolerance and civility have been ‘run  out of town on the rail’ by strident shock jocks, bullies and mean spirited politicans and pundits all nurtured and and funded by the ultra wealthy and powerful. 
    It’s much easier for the ‘owners’ to help themselves to a lion’s share of the GDP and  exercise illegitimate control if they can keep us believing that half of us are nothing like the other half.
    They want us busy fighting each other instead of fighting the oppression they are so busy imposing. 
    Creating and maintaining the myth that we are deeply divided enables them to manipulate elections filling the halls of power with their servants and stymy dissent.
    Haidt seemed to be counseling a Zen like acceptance of what is so clearly mass manipulation. Exactly what the 1%would love us to do. Exactly the opposite of what needs to be done.

  • Eddie P.

    Mr. Moyers I followed you on PBS for years, while channel surfing I was glad to see your return. Sir, I am a Federal Worker I am trying to understand why we are being we are blamed for the budget crises, freezing our pay raises for 5 years in hopes of reducing the budget…come on someone needs to wake up. Even in our local paper they are quick to print articles claiming that all Civil Service employees on Eglin AFB make six figures…that is so wrong. Granted there a few professionals that do but most of the workforce only make five figures, here again a certain few using propaganda to incite the masses. In this area the Federal Government (including Military) is a major employer who pays well and we all know it, I guess they forget how much money we pump into the economy. Also, I don’t understand why they want to raise the premiums on TRICARE for our men and women who served or serving in uniform for many Veterans this is there only medical assistance. I may have gone off in the wrong direction and I apologize. Thank you for your time and I’ll continue watch you Saturday nights.

  • Anonymous

    A long time ago Lorenz von Stein wrote:

    “What I am, what I have, and what I do, belongs in some part to the
    community. The strength of the community resides in what each individual
    surrenders to it from his personal life- material, spiritual, and
    social matters. It is thus -even mathematically- impossible that the
    community should offer individuals the conditions of economic
    accomplishment, unless the individuals return to it part of their
    earnings made possible by the very existence of the community. As long
    as human beings and nations exist, this reciprocal process will
    continue, even though the individual may neither want it nor even be
    aware of it. This is the economic principle of human society.”

    That principle isn’t one that needs to be agreed upon, it is the BASIS
    of society. As has always has been the case, we are schooled from an
    early age to seek out advantage. In today’s world of new technologies,
    some advantages are fatally destructive to our community. Technology has
    made it possible for that 1/10th of 1% to have their own new “commons” from which the lack of wealth excludes all others. Some of those 0.1%ers realize the fallacy but are faced with question of how to make the rest of that “community” understand. Until we see the disparity in wealth as pernicious to human society, we will continue toward the destruction of the planet.

  • Tom Watembach

    I blame the mainline media for much of this. They keep pushing the blue state/red state and liberal/conservative distinctions. After all, conflict is marketable. It’s also probably ingrained in our western mind sets. We tend to think in terms of duality, good/evil, right/wrong, true/false.

  • Yaz

    I disagree that we human Earthlings are necessarily so quarrelous.  If we look at other cultures, where people are brought up and it is modelled for them, to be mutually respectful and live in peace … they do a much better job at it than contemporary Americans. I suggest you interview someone like Wade Davis or John Perkins about this.  I do agree that “civilization” needs to be cultivated.  

  • Michael E. Stumpf

    Hi,Bill  I was wonndering if you had encountered Parker J Palmer,Healing the Heart of Democracy?He seems to be on the same page as you about the political crises at this point in our history.Thank You for your work,it helps me hold the tension of this time with informed Passion!Peace Be Upon You,Mike

  • http://www.billmoyers.com/ AnneLBS

    Hi Michael E. Stumpf,

    You might enjoy this interview with Bill and his old friend, Parker Palmer ; http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/02202009/watch2.html

  • Arnold, K

    Re: Discussion with Mr. Haidt.  What is the explanation for the wide difference in thinking and beliefs between liberals and conservatives? Is it hard-wired into the brain by genes acting on the developing brain in utero and infancy? Or is it environmental and cultural, or more likely an interaction between the two;  and if so how much of each? Have studies been done on young children to see how early these different modes of thinking and believing appear;  such as before culture and education have had much time to be effective, or only afterwards?  

    K. Arnold

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5KZBCEBB23FKKWP6CQJAIGX46M Phx Titan

    Why is our nation divided? How about the 30x bankrupting cost of $30 Trillion in the past 30 years since 1981 (after 205 yrs of just $1.0 Trillion total) that conservatives have wrought upon America for their beligerence of “Starving the Beast” to see their values manifested? None other than David Stockman, Reagan’s very own OMB man, laid out the insideous accounting in a NYT op-ed “How My Republican Party Destroyed the American Economy” and detailing how both the National Debt P&I costs & Current Account trade deficits have exploded to $30 Trillion combined since 1981’s Reagan Revolution came to power. Stockman had already predicted it from 1981’s classic Atlantic Monthly cover story bombshell “The Education of David Stockman” as OMB director in Dec 1981.  

    And Nixon/Reaganomics did the exact opposite of building up the US economy; it destroyed it, with a $30 Trillion tab to boot for the honor, via “hollowing-out” the economy by “Nixon Shock” in 1971, defaulting on American obligations to balance its accounts & books with the rest of the world in trade under Bretton Woods, opening the door for Reagan to launch 30 straight years and $8 Trillion in insideous trade deficits that traded US manufacturing might and jobs for an ever growing addiction to cheap imports that has effectively wrought upon America “borrowed prosperity on an epic scale” and a “hollowed-out” American economy. Republicans, via their war on values, destroyed the American economy via voting against their own economic interests… for that of party and ideological loyalty.  Starve the Beast to the tune of a $30 Trillion compounding costs… AND destruction of the American economy.  AND allowing the richest 1% to run off with ALL of America’s great bounty in the process.  It’s a messianic Conservative Revolution Jihad against their own country. Al Qaeda has NOTHING on this gang of insideous insane party loyalists.

    But tonight’s guest says I’m suppose to see the ‘good intention’s of my fellow conservative Americans.  What, ignorance is blissful? Scientists & Academics are bad for America & the world? The educated are too snooty?

    No, the problem with America is that progressives, democrats, liberals can’t provide ANY resonating narrative or historic accounting of what conservatives are doing to this country AND provide a resonating alternative gameplan for reversing conservative damage wrought upon the nation. Obama is economically naive as to the Nixon/Reagan damage, historically challenged, and a poor poker playing politician up against the likes of conservatives. STELLAR oratory skills pretty much WASTED on non-resonating narrative.  Conservative voice David Stockman & his OMB savvy are the best voice “Progressives” (outside of Moyers’ show) can conjure up to right this American ship. Pretty sad state of progressive affairs and ranks.  Sure glad Moyers is back but I bet you a dollar to a donut that few if any of Team Obama are tuning in, taking notes. This is one giant naive team we got in place in the White House. Great intentions, but woefully naive.

  • Joe Hartman

    I had the same reaction to Mr Haidt. Thank you for presenting such a clear rebuttal to his prevarications. The part about mass manipulation and the media is especially appropriate in the context of this show.  Mr Moyers, I still think you are the best we’ve got on TV but I’m surprised that Mr Haidt was able to run his game on you without any major objections. Maybe you were surprised or hadn’t seen his version of the script yet. Anyway, thanks for all you do.

  • Ralph E. Melcher

    So, I took the test and found that the difference between my own attitudes and BOTH liberal and conservative attitudes pretty much balanced one another across the board, and yet I do not in any way consider myself a middle of the roader. Jonathan Haidt’s comment that conservative intellectuals are closer to the “real” world than liberal intellectuals, however, reveals perhaps more about the long term effects of living in a red state like Indiana than it does about reality. The major difference that I see  between conservative and liberal intellectuals is that the latter (i.e. Ann Coulter) are much more willing to distort the facts or tell outright lies to back up their arguments. The conservative ‘ethic’ apparently places truth on a second rung far beneath power. It’s their ridiculous and baldfaced distortions that are likely to come back to bite them (and have currently divided them into at least four distinct factions) despite any liberal naivete that considers ‘fairness’ and ‘compromise’ to be values worthy of consideration.   

  • Bill Turley

    Mr. Moyers, welcome back to the airways! Although I am a writer, I have no words to express my admiration and graditude for what you do. You give a voice to those who are serious about solving problems as oppose to those  who are passified by the political wars under the big top which has become our political system. I would like to see you nterview Michael Lerner. In case you are unfamiliar with him,  he is the author of  The Left Hand of God. For me this is the most important book I have read in probably a decade. In it, he talks about the divide in a spiritual as well as political sense, and proposes strategies to help heal our system.


    Bill Turley

  • Chuck Hale

    Thank you for your usual quality show.  It’s always on my “must watch” show.

  • chuckvw

    I didn’t really think much of Haidt’s facile psychobabble. I was surprised that Bill let so many false equivalences go unchallenged. The “conservatives” have ruled the country for 30 years, as our standard of living declines, foreign adventures seem self-propagating, our civil liberties are eroded, and our infrastructure crumbles. These aren’tt a matter of some statistical predisposition. They are facts.

    There is a real life or death struggle underway in this country. The 1% and their shills would like the rest of us to believe that the cause is our impoliteness, rather than their greed and corruption. We’ve been far too polite for far too long.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5KZBCEBB23FKKWP6CQJAIGX46M Phx Titan

    #chuckvw  While I agree with everything Chuck says, I have to make a ‘tiny’ mere $30 Trillion note of his after-thoughts of conservative’s 30 year rule & legacy the past three decades… prior to the house of cards collapse in 2008. It’s far more insideous than what Chuck and practically everyone says about the sea change period… other than Reagan’s own OMB man himself.  David Stockman’s OMB perspective has minced absolutely no words about it. Stockman said “My Republican Party destroyed the American economy”, in fact it was the subtitle of the ‘how it was done’ op-ed  in a 7/31/2010 NYT opinion piece. Simply google historic tables on 3 uber mega costs and ever-growing compounding burdens on America’s past and future since 1981 regarding the biggest levers of power available in Washington… which has been dominated by Conservatives since then (given Clinton only enjoyed his two first “training wheel” years of his 8 year legacy without conservatives dominating the legislative branch… to do any substantive course reversal. And those 2 yrs were mired in fabricated “..gate” scandals by conservatives at that.

    Google the history of three: 1.) US Current Account (net trading balance), 2.) National Debt, 3.) Net Interest cost of carrying the National Debt.   All launched to the moon after the Conservative Revolution of Reaganomics.  $1.0 Trillion TOTAL our first 205 years (1776-1981); $30 Trillion our past 30 years post 1981… of republican voters voting against their own economic interests “on an epic scale”, according to Reagan’s own OMB man. Voters are at the top of the political food chain; accountable to ourselves for what we wrought. While you’re at it, spending via the Military Industrial Complex since 1981 (but off my point).

    1.)  Trade. In 1981 the USA was a balanced trading nation “lifting all boats”, and we were even that for the decade prior on a total decade basis, even after “Nixon Shock” in August 1971 where we (Nixon & Friedman) tragically defaulted on American obligations to balance America’s books and accounts with the rest of the world in trade under the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement, put in place for good reason. But come the Reagan Revolution, Reagan kicked off 30 straight years and, according to Reagan’s own OMB man, $8 Trillion in accumulated trade deficits and “borrowed prosperity on an epic scale”, trading US manufacturing might and jobs for a growing additction to cheap imports goods and services, “hollowing-out” the American economy along the 30 yr Reagan path he charted for us.  An $8 Trillion insideous deficit launched by Reagan, which we’ve never reversed course from since via conservative hero Reagan launched the Conservative Revolution… with the help of 42 southern conservative “Boll Weevils” democrats in the House of Representatives (those famous “Reagan Democrats”, but were already conservatives at heart, the likes of which were Phil Gramm and Richard Shelby, who flipped parties and became dixie Senators.

    Important Side note: Moyers used most of his 40 minutes with Stockman to focus on where the current Obama adminstration isn’t “getting it”. While I agree, the opportunity to flush out the bankrupting narrative of voters voting against their own economic interests for 30 years now and Nixon/Reaganomics economic destruction of the American economy… was a lost opportunity, if not an “epic scale” (Stockman’s phase), at least a ‘frustrating scale’. Side note to side note: It was Carter’s appointment of Paul Volcker and the absolute sea change at the Fed that killed off Nixon’s and EPIC “teamplayer” Fed Chairman Arthur Burns’ runaway “pump priming”  inflation… that had mortally wounded Carter himself, via ironically, his hyper responsible appointment of Volcker. See “Secrets of the Temple: How the Fed Runs the Country” by William Greider

    2. & 3.)  Budget. In 1981, after 205 yrs as a nation, we hit the $1.0 Trillion National Debt benchmark, almost as perfect a baseline comparaitve benchmark as Trade’s net zero balanced status to contrast pre Reagan… to post Reagan. Since the Reagan Revolution slashed taxes for the rich and exploded the National Debt (Cheney said “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter”) the national debt is just 30 years later at $21.35 Trillion (21x) when considering the actual 30 year debt carrying cost of Net Interest: $15.35 Trillion debt principle today + $6 Trillion in its 30 yr Net Interest cost. And since the House of Cards collapse and dive over the cliff, accelerating at ever growing speeds due to Reagan’s demonization of Paygo and actually paying for executive signed spending by Reagan and future admins.

    The problem lies with progressives, liberals, Democrats utter inability to use the new medium of PowerPoint/Keynote Steve Jobs like storytelling for the visual narrative and construct a resonating accompanying verbal narrative & economic historical perspective focused on bankrupting conservative revolution policy and a nation of voters voting against their own economic interests when choosing loyalty to conservative’s wedge issues over economic well-being of their own country.  Even Bill Clinton’s “third way” of co-opting some and maybe even much of Reaganomics has been disaterous when considering no reversal of growing trade deficits happend under Clinton and his disasterous adoption of Sen. Phil Gramm’s led charge of irradicating the Glass Steagall Banking Act.  Which highlights the extent of the “TRIPLE DEFICITS” (trade, budget, and regulation) since the conservative sea change in 1981.

    If Obama was a Steve Jobs presentation like PowerPoint/Keynote President, with Obama’s oratory skills, Progressives could launch a Progressvie counter Revolution that could save America from itself.  The insideous $30 Trillion damage of conservatives has to be SEEN and RESONATE. PowerPoint by Obama would kill Reaganomics once and for all with a silver stake thru the heart of it.  Forget middle ground and the focus of the last show… Clinton tried that with his “third way”. Yes, Clinton heroically produced” PROJECTED budget surpluses as far as the eyes could see”, raising taxes and vetoing dozens of Newt tax cut bills, halting Reagan’s debt trajectory temporarily, yet Clinton continued with Reagan’s Trade & Regulation Deficit policies.

  • MillG

    Mr. Haidt’s discourse on Conservatives & Liberals was
    quite tight-knit. But, in spite of evoking it several times the concept of
    “karma” seems to elude Mr.
    Haidt. For example, the issue of Health Insurance for the 30-35-yr-old (in the
    Ron Paul scenario) is an issue of ‘decision’ and not “karma”. He could very well have been a great son, husband,
    father, neighbor, etc. and that’s’ what constitutes “good karma” and not merely a decision to buy Health Insurance or not. Similar
    to his argument, regarding Conservatives and Liberals, the concept of “karma” is not as simplistic as he
    presented it to be. Mr. Haidt also failed to connect the actions of ‘Bankers
    and Wall Streeters’ as what can easily be evaluated as “bad karma”, which, in turn, would negate several of
    his arguments on Moyers & Company.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    Bill Moyers: Your Jonathan Haidt interview was a mistake. Many of the bravest dissidents feel you undercut their position. You (and staff) can see what I mean if you’ll go to Truthout and read the article “Book Burning in Arizona” by Henry A. Giroux. We believe the Traditionalist/pro-corporate extremists are like a shark being fed chum and that their movement cannot be reasoned with in the midst of its feeding frenzy. I only just discovered Truthout myself. They have a Public Intellectual Project with a density of intelligence and insight unmatched in contemporary discourse. George Lakoff is on their team, and you will remember how I and several others had read his work and suggested his superiority to Haidt.
    You have been a Democrat for a long time. I was a Republican for a long time working for Arlen Specter. I think our parties have outlived their usefulness to the American people. Today either side could win the Presidential elections and gain majorities in both houses, and yet our nation would fail. Even mentioning the two substantive problems (Empire and Wealth Concentration) will get you smeared and threatened by the minions of Traditionalist/pro-corporate interests, and now even in media by their leadership. The time for polite discourse has passed. These bullies must be confronted before they achieve authoritarian totalitarianism. People need to see you exercise
    exemplary fortitude if you really want to help. If not, you’d be better off retired. And though I’m admonishing you now, I’d sincerely hate to see that. I can’t stand to watch you placate evil actors.

  • http://twitter.com/billmoher billmoher

    I’d be interested in your comments on the news that the Whitehouse is “accommodating” and not “compromising” on the Birth Control issue after taking heat from Catholics. 


    Your recent “Why is Our Nation So Divided?” program painted the disdain of the word compromise as the domain of the republicans – and clearly this is an example of the equal opportunity of positioning language.  Jonathan Haidt is correct that hypocrisy is the most human of traits.  And to all those who criticized John Boehner for his stance on refusing to call it “compromise” and will inevitably defend President Obama’s birth control “accommodation” as not a “compromise” of principles, take solace in knowing you are all hypocrites.

  • Cybertsiren

    Dear Mr Moyers,
    I find myself compelled to write after viewing Ms McGhee. It is all fine and well for liberal bleeding hearts to want a social contract but “they know not whereof they speak”. I once was liberal but I have become a libertarian/conservative for reasons I shall presently set forth.
    I live in a building that has a large population of residents with housing vouchers. Most have lived in the building for at least twenty years and have raised children who now, themselves, have vouchers and children. From the day they receive that voucher, their lives are set. They get food stamps, utility assistance, free bus cards, and medical. If they ever work, it’s under the table, usually doing hair, doing daycare, etc. They lead their lives to preserve their eligibility for this aid. Three generations have been paralyzed by this lifestyle. We de-incentivise their struggle to strive and achieve. Carnegie was right; hardship is necessary for personal accomplishment.
    In NYC, four generations have lived in the same rent controlled-units; for all intents and purposes,it is their permanent family home that is passed down in perpetuity. Had there not been rent controls, they might have bought a home outside of their self-imposed ghetto, perhaps migrating to another city. Naturally, this reinforces segregation and artificially attaches these people to an apartment like serfs!
    Parents who have no income are lining up to have their children diagnosed with learning disabilities in order to receive an SSI check; indeed those who might have been thought of as “slow” but still capable of some level of work and self-sufficiency are now life-long malingerers on disability. Social security disability has become the new welfare; there was no real reform; instead the responsibility just shifted to a different government agency.
    Illegal immigrant families come for a better life but also “game” the system. They immediately have an anchor baby which entitles them to food stamps, WIC, Earned-income credit checks,etc for the new US citizen which is used to support the rest of the family. It may be the business owners who receive the advantage of  cheap labor but the middle class subsidizes their wages; I’d rather pay more for my groceries and less on my taxes to make sure the unemployed are hired for these jobs.
    I have belonged to a few unions and am currently a reluctant member. I am forced to be a member as a condition of my employment; when you see an entire profession such as teachers forced into unions, it constitutes unfair regulation of commerce and is really an illegal monopoly. I prefer a meritocracy where I am encouraged to grow and advance rather than to adopt a “cooperative” union attitude to support mediocrity for the sake of solidarity. Tenure, job descriptions, etc. have so crippled many professions (notably teachers), that administrators have given up and taken the responsibility of curriculum development away from individual teachers in favor of standardized learning programs created at the executive level; these programs reduce the teacher to a facilitator thereby completely degrading the profession.
    It is not surprising that those who enter the teaching profession graduate from the bottom quarter of their college classes. They are attracted to teaching primarily because of its security! Once one receives tenure, one coasts until retirement. I cannot even describe to you what I see: teachers who cannot score high enough on the GRE exam to receive admittance to even the most non-selective graduate schools and who cannot write a letter of recommendation for a student. If the union safety net were removed and teachers had to compete for jobs and retention, do you think our educational system would be in its present sad state? Unions are responsible for the dumbing of America; they have always supported mediocrity and the status quo; can we afford this in a globalized world?
    We are now a nation of scammers; everyone tries to pay fewer taxes with creative deductions. Who are our role models for this behavior? Why, our presidential candidate! At some point, I must ask myself the advantages of remaining in the US; people are retiring to other countries out of economic necessity but even then, we are the only developed country to require expats to pay income tax for the privilege of holding a US passport.  Can you blame us for our resentment?
    We are headed towards an oligarchical government where the 1% hold all power. We have grid-lock in Congress because no bill that is unfavorable to that 1% will EVER pass! It really doesn’t matter who is President anymore because that 1% will never share power. It’s really over for America; the occupiers and teapartiers think they have a chance; they are deluded.


  • Fredsgirl

    Bill is a sign post pointing us in a direction to ‘step up and make a difference’.  Now is the time!

  • Frances in California

    My hat is off to you for focusing Occupy Portland on education; that’s where the real transformation happens.  But, please!  Our Sec’ty of State?!  “Pay no attention to the Blackwater Mercenary behind that curtain!”

  • Caspin

    Thanks for these book recommendations.