The Problem of Polarization in Modern Politics
Politics—the topic that no one wants to talk about during Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone holds their own beliefs on how the world should function, varying from autocracy to complete anarchy. However, within in the United States, there are two political parties that wield enormous amounts of power: the Democrats and Republicans. While there are other parties, such as the Libertarian and Green parties, only the Democratic and Republican parties are recognized in all fifty states. These two groups hold many directly opposing views, creating a highly polarized environment within the political sphere. In wake of recent events, it seems imperative to recognize the glaring issues within our political system, no matter where any of us may fall on that spectrum.
In the event that there are some reading this article that are unfamiliar with what the Founding Fathers’ original intent for the United States was, allow me to remind you of what President George Washington said in his farewell address.
“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally… The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty…
It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another… And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.” (George Washington, United States – September 17, 1796)
Many of the things that he said over two hundred years ago in his warning are true today in our highly partisan country. There are extreme amounts of animosity between Democrats and Republicans, as can be seen, quite frankly, by watching almost any American politician speak. On democrats.org, the official website of the Democratic Party, there are many statements that mention the Republican Party by name and then proceed to paint it in a negative light. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Donald Trump, the president, has a long history of making hostile remarks against Democrats and democratic policy. In political ads, no matter who the candidate is or what party they are running for, the ad almost always prioritizes attacking the other side over stating the candidate’s beliefs. The fact that there is more emphasis on attacking opposing ideas rather than actually stating your own beliefs on policy is problematic in itself, causing the government to seem more like a competition between two teams instead of an effort to run a country.
The polarized political climate of the U.S. not only has the negative impact of causing dissent between sides but also has influenced how decisions are made in the government, causing them to be based on extreme versions of the two parties’ base policies. This has escalated to the point that, for several months this year, children were being kept away from their families in government-run facilities. Politicians from both parties came forwards, saying that they disagreed with this; however, even after over two months, some of the children were not reunited. Why? This government action was taking the basic Republican idea of maintaining national security through not allowing illegal immigration to the extreme by even punishing those who were doing the completely legal action of seeking asylum.
This problematic system has caused many to become disillusioned by politics as a whole, feeling forced to choose between the lesser of two evils rather than people who represent their beliefs. The appearance of no positive options cause many to simply not to choose, or vote, at all. According to the US Census, only 46% of those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine vote, causing a government that already does not contain anyone from that age demographic and, as has been previously demonstrated, only shows caricatures of two philosophies, to be even more out of touch with the population it is supposed to be representing than it otherwise would be.
So, what can we do with this information? Simply put, all we can do is change our mindsets about the government as a whole. When looking at the news, use multiple sources to get a full scope of whatever situation is happening in order to avoid bias, and avoid networks that are notorious for having a strong bias, such as Fox News and Daily Kos. Also, attempt to understand why others may have opposing views, even if you strongly disagree with them. It is completely ok not to have radical views, hence why the political spectrum is called a spectrum in the first place. Overall, mutual respect seems as though it would open up doors of communication and collaboration that have been closed up to this point due to party animosity. If there were no teams to cling to in what seems to be a petty, name-calling competition, then there could potentially be increased collaboration in order to actually improve our country.