The Polarization of American Politics

Written by Joy Yang

America has forgotten that the goal of elections are to remind the government of the people’s needs, rather than to let parties lead the people to wherever they want them to go. According to Pew Research Center, the number of Americans with consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions have doubled in just two decades. Concurrently, partisan antipathy for both parties has more than doubled as well. Rather than identifying with the party that supports their values, people are now adopting the values of the party they support. Individuals often complain about their party’s chosen candidate, but still vote for them anyways because of a feeling of loyalty to their party. As the number of moderates dwindle, citizens’ ability to be more open-minded to other views seem to have dwindled as well.

As our political system becomes more and more polarized, it becomes easier to label a single person based on their political identity. This has taken away the necessity of individuals to familiarize themselves with beliefs different from their own. People are now comfortable using a single aspect of a person’s identity to make judgments on their entire character. Take for instance the recent controversy between a Native American elder and a boy wearing a Make America Great Again hat in Washington D.C. Leaked videos showed a high schooler from a Catholic school smirking in the face of a Native American elder. Within a couple of days, both social media and traditional media outlets condemned the boy for being disrespectful and touted him as the embodiment of all Trump supporters. Every negative perception of him was immediately attributed to his MAGA hat. By just watching a 60 second video, people were ready to form judgements and condemn the student without having even seen the full picture.

 

Yet, the second that proof arose that there was more to the story, that a longer video showed that it was the Native Americans that approached the boys first, all the voices who had just a day before been condemning the boy in the MAGA hat suddenly fell silent. Some media outlets like CNN gave half-hearted apologies while others like the Washington Post completely ignored this new evidence. Almost as quickly as people were ready to condemn the boy, people fell silent when they realized the actual story didn’t fit the narrative they wanted to believe was true.

This doesn’t mean, however, that I believe all opinions should be given the same weight. There’s obviously a difference between an opinion founded upon facts, and one that’s simply untrue. However, change cannot occur if one refuses to acknowledge alternative possibilities. By demonizing the opposition, we allow people to strip individuals of their humanity. If we completely shut out conversation, then politics becomes a shouting match with no one receding and no one moving forward. As America becomes more and more polarized, it’s even more important now than ever before to have these conversations, and to try and understand where the opposition is coming from instead of pushing them away. When we open ourselves to have our minds changed, we also open up the towards changing other people’s minds. Instead of allowing a person’s political party to define who they are, let it only be a single characteristic of a person’s entire identity.

 

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