In this era, politics has become central to our everyday lives, permeating every aspect of the culture surrounding us. It seems that everybody in the public eye–from Chuck Norris and Mark Hamill to Brie Larson and Taylor Swift– tells us about their political views and why we should listen to them. President Trump’s campaign was notably marked by strong, provocative rhetoric that was designed to stir up discussion and debate. On the other hand, the Democrat response has always been equally forceful. Not a day goes by without numerous online clashes between left-wing and right-wing activists, and, in some extreme cases, riots and violence have occurred. One only needs to scroll through the replies of Trump’s tweets to see the extreme divide that occurs in today’s political culture. Why is the political sphere today so divided, and how can we fix this?
Amidst all the division and hatred in our current political climate, it is easy to forget that this is not necessarily new. Political discourse has inevitably led to bitterness throughout history, and although statistics have shown that both sides of the political aisle have shifted away from each other in the past few years, enmity in politics has and always will exist to an extent. One cannot forget the infamous Burr-Hamilton duel way back in 1804, where a gunfight between two prominent politicians over political animosity ended in Hamilton’s death. This is just one example, but throughout history the floor of Congress has also seen much actual violence. While not exactly comforting, it is worth remembering that the division and hatred we see today is not unprecedented.
It is worth noting that political polls show that civility is a huge topic that both sides of the political spectrum agree on. In a 2018 poll, 96 percent of Democrats and 95 percent of Republicans stated that civility was crucial to democracy. The overwhelming majority of the public believed incivility in today’s political world was leading to political gridlock, less political engagement, and greater intolerance of free speech. Furthermore, 72 percent of Americans surveyed stated that they believed civility in political discourse has gotten worse in the last few years. Despite the sharp divide between the right and the left in today’s political world, both sides seem to overwhelmingly agree on the topic of civility.
Why then, does all this division and animosity exist? According to recent statistics and analysis, there is an increasing ideological shift between Democrats and Republicans, with members of each party shifting towards their respective extremes. A 2017 Pew Research study showed that 95 percent of Republicans are more conservative than the median Democrat, while 97 percent of Democrats are more liberal than the median Republican. Adding fuel to the fire, President Trump’s unexpected election victory in 2016 split the country sharply and was met with immense opposition by his Democrat critics. Trump’s strong rhetoric earned him heavy press coverage and helped him win the White House, but has also often been criticized as partly responsible for the political division today. On the other hand, Trump supporters have pointed to the constant negative press coverage, a long-running Russian collusion allegation that yielded little results, and endless cries for impeachment from the Democrats as the reason for today’s political divide. Both sides in today’s political world point fingers at each other for the division around us, but an analysis of the facts shows that both sides are very much responsible for the disunity in the modern political sphere.
However, amidst all the chaos and incivility, many things remain constant. Despite never-ending arguments and endless political division, there is always more that unites us than divides us. The average American ultimately wants the best for their country; they simply disagree on how to achieve greatness. Moreover, America is not as divided as the picture that the news paints. Media naturally gravitates towards hatred and division, not reflecting on the relative political peace enjoyed by most.
In conclusion, how can we heal the political divide in today’s world? The sharp divide may seem jarring and daunting, but we can always do our part in improving political discourse. Civility in debates, whether online or in-person, is essential to a healthy democracy and society. Demonizing and belittling the other side will not change the mind of your opposition; rather, debates are won when one reaches out in grace to find common ground and help the other side see your point of view. If the polar political climate of today is to improve, it can only happen if we do our part and encourage civility in political discourse.
“Amid Political Party Conflict, Individuals Agree: Erosion of Civility Is Harming Our Democracy.” Weber Shandwick, 1 Mar. 2018, <www.webershandwick.com/news/amid-political-party-conflict-individuals-agree-erosion-of-civility-is-harming-our-democracy/.>
Nilsson, Jeff. “Beatings, Brawls, and Lawmaking: Mayhem in Congress.” The Saturday Evening Post, Saturday Evening Post Society, 4 Dec. 2010, <www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2010/12/beatings-brawls-lawmaking-mayhem-congress/.>
“Political Polarization, 1994-2017.” Pew Research Center, The Pew Charitable Trusts, 20 Oct. 2017, <www.people-press.org/interactives/political-polarization-1994-2017/.>
“The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider.” Pew Research Center, The Pew Charitable Trusts, 5 Apr. 2019, <www.people-press.org/2017/10/05/the-partisan-divide-on-political-values-grows-even-wider/.>