Understanding and Overcoming Political Polarization with Constitutional Expert Dr. Verlan Lewis

Dr. Verlan Lewis
Dr. Verlan Lewis

On Jan. 26, the Southern Virginia University community gathered to hear Dr. Verlan Lewis, Stirling Professor of Constitutional Studies and associate professor of political science at Utah Valley University, speak on his recent co-authored book, “The Myth of Left and Right,” and how to be peacemakers in a polarized political nation.

Using excerpts from his book, Lewis explained the two mindsets commonly held in American politics in the last hundred years, monism and pluralism. According to Lewis, monism—which attributes oneness to a concept—is an unhelpful mindset because politics focuses on a wide range of topics, known as pluralism.

“But that’s what we do when we talk about politics in terms of left and right,” said Lewis. “We say everything on one side is good and everything on the other side is bad. And you can see how this can lead to division in our politics.”

Dr. Verlan Lewis

To combat monism, Lewis suggested viewing American politics as a two-party system that overlaps in many areas. He compared the Republican and Democratic parties to two grocery baskets holding a variety of topics for individuals to select based on what aligns closest with their views. In comparing the baskets, individuals are able to acknowledge the commonalities between the parties instead of focusing solely on the differences.

“There’s survey data from the Pew Research Center asking ordinary people what they think should be the top priority for the president and Congress to address this year,” Lewis said. “Some people said it should be strengthening the economy, dealing with the pandemic, or securing Social Security. There were lots of different things that people suggested because politics is about multiple things.”

Lewis encouraged students to look at the variety of topics in the political world and avoid basing their identities solely on political alignments. He emphasized the importance of focusing on their eternal identities, sharing President Russell M. Nelson’s call to be a peacemaker in the world and seek understanding to overcome political division.

Dr. Verlan Lewis

“I would caution you against finding your ultimate meaning or identity in a political ideology,” said Lewis. “Focus on the most important identities. Find meaning and self worth in your community, in your church groups, and in your family relationships—not in an ideological label.”

The event featured a musical performance by Accolade of “Friend Like Me” and ended with the traditional singing of “Love One Another.”