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Arthur Brooks on why we hate our political enemies — and how to stop


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: On our bookshelf tonight, a conversation with Arthur Brooks, who was, until this month, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.

I spoke with him recently about his latest book, "Love Your Enemies."

He started by explaining how he came to study the science behind a concept as old as the Scriptures.

Arthur Brooks: What really set me on this beat was reading an article about something called motive attribution asymmetry, where two sides in a conflict both believe that they're motivated by love, but the other side is motivated by hatred.

There's the same level of this that we see between the Palestinians and Israelis. And this is the reason we have a standoff. Nobody's persuading anybody. We need a new solution.

Judy Woodruff: So the animosity between the Palestinians and the Israelis, you're saying, is what exists between ordinary Americans.

My question is, when did differences, which are part of democracy, become contempt, which is part of your title?

Arthur Brooks: This has been going back a decade or so. But it's been exacerbated in particular since the 2016 election, where people don't just disagree with each other. They treat each other utterly dismissively, as if somebody were worthless if they disagreed with the other person.

And, of course, this comes from leaders. We have leaders who treat each other with contempt. But I think leaders in a capitalist democratic culture tend to be downstream from what other people are seeing.

We're being manipulated largely by media, by politics, even by academia, where it's -- where we're told that it's OK to hate our enemies.

Judy Woodruff: So is that who's to blame? I mean, it's the leaders, it's the media, and all of us?

Arthur Brooks: Well, what I talk about in this book is that -- and there's very clear data that 93 percent of Americans hate how divided we have become.

That doesn't mean that we agree with each other. On the contrary, we shouldn't agree with each other, because we have a competition of ideas. That's a good thing. But the other 7 percent, they're getting rich and powerful and famous or just getting satisfaction and followers on social media by saying it's OK to hate each other.

Now, this is insane, of course. Nobody in history has ever been persuaded by insults. And it's immoral to hate each other as well simply because of political disagreements.

Judy Woodruff: But -- and you write in great detail throughout the book about examples of how people relate to each other.

But some of these disagreements that people have, have had and have today are fundamental. They're over values, over issues of life and death, abortion, and so on.

Arthur Brooks: Right.

Judy Woodruff: I mean, these are not things that people can just suddenly say...

Arthur Brooks: Yes, that's true.

Judy Woodruff: ... oh, it doesn't matter to me.

Arthur Brooks: These are big issues. That's true.

And, sometimes, people will ask me, so what about people who deserve my contempt? What about people who say truly hateful things?

And one of the questions I ask is, what do you want? Do you want to exile that person, put them in jail or hurt that person? And the answer is, of course not. I'm not a horrible person.

So how is your hate working out, if what you want to do is persuade somebody and make them think and act differently? You have zero chance of doing so if contempt is your modus operandi.

Judy Woodruff: But you also hear people say today, I don't want to have anything to do with someone who I think is a racist or someone who I think is -- believes in communism.

I mean, there are, again, fundamental value differences between people.

Arthur Brooks: Yes.

Judy Woodruff: And I guess the question is, don't people have a right to say, I don't want to have anything to do with that?

Arthur Brooks: Sure. We can absolutely do that. And we form communities where we don't -- we don't associate with other people.

But, in point of fact, the greatness of the United States is persuading each other and making progress in terms of our values. And the only way that I can do that, if I'm firmly convinced that my ideas are right, are by showing love to other people, and especially love when I'm treated with hatred.

Now, I understand that's hard. I get that it's a hard thing to do. But I show the science in this book, that, if you want to persuade, it's the only way. And Martin Luther King used to say that. You can only redeem a man when you love a man.

If you want to be happier, I have the science that shows that you will be happier if you answer contempt with warmheartedness. And you have a shot at bringing more unity to the country, which 93 percent of us say that we want. It's a win-win-win.

Judy Woodruff: What are practical steps that you believe we can take to have less contempt?

Arthur Brooks: One of the first things that I suggest, that people stop being used by the outrage industrial complex and politics and media, even on college campuses, where are being taught by leaders that it's OK to hate.

When you hate, somebody else is profiting. And so it's important for us to look at the people on our own side who are telling us it's OK to hate and cross them off the list. Stop reading the columnist who always scratches that itch.

Stop watching the show. People should be watching the "NewsHour," not the shows that are actually firing up their hostility. It's not helping us at all.

The second is to look for contempt, because that's an opportunity to persuade and be happier, to go out looking for the hatred, so that we can answer it with love.

And I give examples on how to do it. It's a very practical book. It's a solutions-based book. It shows the how-to on how to do it.

Judy Woodruff: So you started out talking about the responsibility of our leaders who are setting an example.

Arthur Brooks: Right.

Judy Woodruff: President Trump is clearly part of this.

Arthur Brooks: For sure.

Judy Woodruff: How -- can change happen while our leaders are setting an example themselves of contempt?

Arthur Brooks: In a democratic society, in a capitalist culture, our leaders actually are followers. They tend to be a consequence, not a cause of our actions.

They do affect us, and they do affect our culture, to be sure. But what's happening in democratic societies and with democratic elections is that leaders see a parade going down the street, and they jump out in front of it to be the leader.

If we want something better, each one of us needs to take a different path. That's the reason -- I started off writing this book as an institutional book, how to make better politics and better culture. I wound up writing a book about how each one of us can individually be a better person.

And that's how we get it. It's true that Democratic and Republican leaders today have a big problem of treating other people with contempt, because that's, they believe, their secret to success. Let's make it not the secret to their success, and you will quickly see a difference in behavior among journalists, among other members of the media, certainly among politicians, academics, leaders, people who actually get followers on social media.

They will fall in line.

Judy Woodruff: You make it sound easy.

Arthur Brooks: It's -- it's hard.

And the hardest thing, of course, is to conquer one's own self. I have talked about this a great deal with his holiness the Dalai Lama, who's somebody who has had a huge influence on me, that I have worked with and written with, who is a teacher to me.

And the Dalai Lama says, conquer yourself. Are you the master or the slave of your own feelings? And that's the real challenge, is not changing all of society. The real challenge is saying, am I strong enough to conquer my own heart?

Judy Woodruff: Arthur Brooks.

The title of the book is "Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt."

Thank you.

Arthur Brooks: Thank you, Judy.

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