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Can Moral Reframing Bridge the Political Divide?

Progressives and Conservatives Need to Open Their Minds to Other Opinions

Moral reframing enables people to strengthen their arguments and increase the likelihood they can successfully counteract other opinionated people who are hard to sway. One way to do so is find the statistics or other data that supports your point of view. That won’t work all the time because statistics can be interpreted in diverse ways. If you’ve ever listened to a White House Press Conference and most political statements, you know this is true.

What is Moral Reframing?

Social Psychologist Adam Waytz writes in Neuropsych that “moral reframing” can help us bridge the so-called “tribalist mindset” that pushes us to dehumanize those with whom we disagree ideologically. Moral reframing can help us bridge these divides more emphatically, he writes. When paired with perspective-taking, it can help us rehumanize our image of others, even if we ultimately disagree with them.

According to Waytz,“Tribalism is certainly a basic human tendency—to unite people with shared values, shared beliefs, shared identities. We see a lot of tribalism that then can feed dehumanization because when we have a group of close, connected others that we are surrounded by, oftentimes the salience of a common outgroup, or common enemy, becomes clearer.”

The example typically given of tribalism is politics. All we need do is look at the constant divide between Democrats and Republicans. In today’s super-charged political environment, it is rare when a member of one party will cross the aisle and support the position of the other party. They fear being signaled out by the party they left to support a particular matter and, taken to the extreme, the possibility that that party will cancel them.

Progressive and Conservative Viewpoints

Waytz suggests that progressives tend to be driven by questions of equality and harm while conservatives are influenced more by a sense of purity and loyalty. This is a simplified look at the problem.

Take, for example, the contentious issue of abortion and the Supreme Court, especially considering the leaked draft decision that seemingly would strike down Roe v Wade as the law of the land. Roe was decided on January 22, 1973, almost 50 years ago. Let’s assume the Court is ready to adopt the draft opinion, how can the more progressive justices on the Court influence the opinions of the more conservative ones? Could moral reframing work here?

I disagree with Waytz, generally speaking, that moral reframing might work. I can’t see the justices being swayed by public opinion or protests. Perhaps I am wrong. Time will tell.

I believe that progressives are more driven by the RIGHT of a woman to have an abortion. This fits best with the idea that women have been given that right under Roe. Of course, we could say conservatives are driven by the RIGHT of the unborn child to live. Reframing

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, synonyms for purity include chasteness, chastity, immaculacy, innocence, and modesty.  While I see how conservatives can equate purity with these synonyms and how progressives focus more on questions of equality and harm, especially with respect to the harm to a woman who gives birth to an unwanted child and the difficulties of raising that child while living happily, it’s hard to deny an abortion does harm to an unborn child, at least at some point in the pregnancy.

I also don’t agree completely that only conservatives are moved by the moral value of loyalty. Doesn’t the Democratic Party expect all members to vote the same way?

Values Shifting

According to Stanford University, many believe that the political divide in the U.S. is the worst it has been for a long time. I can’t imagine anyone thinking otherwise.

Stanford studies suggest that in dealing with opposing views such as same-sex marriage that is broadly supported by progressives, it helps to tie those arguments to conservative values like patriotism and moral purity. Likewise, if you want to move liberals on conservative issues such as military spending, the conservatives could be more persuasive by finding a way to tie those policies to liberal moral values like equality and fairness.

This makes little sense to me and is unworkable in 2022. We’re so divided as a nation, especially in Congress, that moral reframing has lost its allure. Those in Congress can try it—no harm there–but moral values such as empathy and compassion might work better, although these values can be defined differently by each side because we live in a society today that operates under a situational ethic. In other words, we no longer believe that everyone should act in accordance with the same, traditional moral values and philosophies.

We live in an egoistic society where most people act in a way that fosters their opinion and benefits them regardless of the consequences to others. To seme extent it’s caused by the herd mentality that exists in Congress—and society. Taken to the extreme, egoism holds that there is no right or wrong way to do things, only to do it in accordance with each party’s/person’s predominant position on an issue.

I’m not taking sides here. I’m simply making the point that while, theoretically, each party can use moral reframing to influence the other through argumentation, it’s not likely to work in today’s extremely partisan Congress where incivility rules the day. I believe we’ve past the point of moral reframing doing any good, at least with respect to political dialogue. The value in play for each side is stubbornness and close-mindedness to the other point of view—and this inflicts members of both parties and society.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on May 9, 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website  ( and by following him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at:

Steve has written a book on being a more ethical person, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. It is available at Amazon or on his website.