Only it's not the kind of deficit you might think.
The deficit I am talking about is one of empathy.
When politicians refuse to extend unemployment benefits to good people in bad times, we have a deficit of empathy.
When people stand up in town hall meetings on health care reform and scream "Let them die" in reference to their countrymen, we have a deficit of empathy.
When men shout down women's shared expressions of grief and fear in the wake of misogynistic horror, we have a deficit of empathy.
When governors turn away health care access for the people in their state so they don't cheese off the Club For Growth, we have a deficit of empathy.
When the National Rifle Association's response to every mass shooting is to shout down victims' families who dare question the role of guns in our society in favor of prescribing more guns, we have a deficit of empathy.
But these are easy examples to cite because of who I am, and what I value. My empathy for the innocent victims of conservative government is cheap. To the extent that it permeates my comments and diaries here, it yields me recs and other forms of validation that serve to reinforce my biases.
I try to be bubble-conscious. There are so many bubbles. There are content bubbles, social media bubbles, activist bubbles, professional bubbles and more - all carefully micro-targeted and quite comfortable to inhabit. These bubbles are not particularly conducive to real empathy, which is empathy for others who do not share your views or circumstance.
Some of you will probably suggest that it isn't worth trying to understand the right. Some of you will probably suggest that we already understand what we need to understand, and that what we really need to do is fight harder. That has been my impulse too.
But in recent years, I have been forced to listen to and to try to understand the other side, because my parents have been swept into bubbles of their own (thanks for this, Fox News), and I can't disown them.
I don't want to pretend that I understand the conservative electorate any better as a result, but having spent time listening, I do feel that I know what motivates them. They are afraid. They are deeply afraid. Specifically, they are afraid of the velocity and the seemingly all-encompassing nature of change.
As you start to unpack that fear, what you find is irrational bogeymen like Bitcoin, legal weed overdoses, and death panels. Those things aren't real, but change is very real. Very little about the way that human beings interact with one another or collect information about the world around them is as it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. One of the only things that hasn't changed much is 24 hour cable news. If we are empathetic, it should not surprise us that Fox News gives people "of a certain generation" comfort. It invites them to process their non-specific and free-floating fear (which feels like a loss of control) into specific targets for rage and vitriol (which feels like taking control back).
Much of our opposition in both the electorate and the political class is stuck in a feedback loop. They quite literally can't perceive another way. They certainly do not perceive that on the other end of the political spectrum are good faith Americans hoping to find common ground and make compromise. Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the rest of the right wing media machine will never let them imagine reconciliation with the left, because their fortunes are too entwined with division.
Once again, and as usual, this leaves human beings standing face to face as our last and best hope. If we cannot resolve to understand each other more deeply, even those whose words and actions turn our stomach, we will remain a divided nation.