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Controversies over “zero tolerance” have exploded recently in two very distinct contexts: the Trump administration’s policy for undocumented border-crossers, dramatized most starkly in its separation of migrant children from their parents, and the #MeToo debate over how firm policies should be toward men who press themselves on women, highlighted by liberals’ torment over the resignation of Senator Al Franken.

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Zero tolerance controversies pop up in other places as well, such as over strict drug and alcohol policy (should one lapse lose a worker his or her job?), enforcement of discipline in schools (is it creating a school-to-jail pipeline?), and the “broken windows” policing strategy (is alienating a community a long-term losing strategy for law enforcement?).

Across a wide range of public policies, however, Americans do not support zero tolerance–even when American lives are stake. Indeed, it is not clear that societies could function well with zero tolerance.

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