Partisanship and polarization have reached an all-time high in America, with The Washington Post reporting Pew’s findings that, “97 percent of Democrats are more liberal than the median Republican and 95 percent of Republicans are more conservative than the median Democrat.” Additionally, “more than 80 percent of Republicans and Democrats hold unfavorable views of the other party, with 44 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of Republicans holding very unfavorable views of their political opponents.”
It seems that the only agreement between the majority of Americans is, unfortunately, that their ideological and political opponents are awful. And with a mindset that anyone who disagrees with you is your enemy, political discourse is nearly impossible: the animosity between liberals and conservatives is, in my opinion, holding back both reasonable debate and the solution to the partisanship and polarization which plagues America.
What is the solution, then? Quite simply, it must be reaching out of the echo chamber and across the aisle, making friends with people who think differently than you. All of this must be within reason, of course, as I certainly don’t advise anyone to socialize with extremists who advocate for genocide and other such things. However, just talking to liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and many others may help you expand your understanding (and theirs), while putting a face to those people and views which you might otherwise deride.
Part One: Partisanship, Polarization and People
When Americans choose only to associate with people who share their own political views, live in electorally uncompetitive areas and consume media which offers no different opinions from their own, there can only be one result: this present state of partisanship and intense polarization. Put simply, both liberals and conservatives have grown apart in terms of the policies which they support and their ability to communicate their views successfully – in this case, viewing a conversation with someone of differing opinions as having gone positively instead of negatively.
There is a strong correlation between this intense dislike of views and parties opposite your own and living in an echo chamber. The failure to experience or even observe different views, whether in person or through media, can only confirm one’s own biases. “We know,” reports The Washington Post, “that people tend to self-sort by the sorts of media they consume and how they interact on social media.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, a Suffolk University poll found that more than 50 percent of Republicans trusted Fox News over more mainstream media sources such as CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC and others. Furthermore, more than 75 percent of Democrats trusted the mainstream sources over Fox News. Large victory margins in state and federal elections point towards the conclusion that some Americans live in areas which have very few, if any, differently minded voters and therefore diverse opinions. In sixteen states during the 2016 presidential election, more than a third of voters lived in an area where either candidate won by over fifty percentage points. In some Midwestern and Appalachian states, more than half of all residents live in these areas.
A 2016 survey by Pew asked Republicans and Democrats to describe their experiences talking with members of the other party, with 50 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of Democrats saying that it was “stressful and frustrating,” and 48 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats responding that it was “interesting and informative.” While the results of the survey are quite close, the thin margin between the inability to talk and the ability to talk poses a serious problem. The negative emotions associated with talking to someone who thinks differently must be dealt with in order to counter the wave of partisanship. Furthermore, members of one party are more likely to describe members of the other party negatively – using terms such as “close-minded, immoral, lazy, dishonest, and unintelligent” – than those of their own party.
Part Two: Our Enemies and Ethics
The solution to the issue at hand sounds simple enough, that is, trying to talk with people who don’t necessarily think the same politically, perhaps befriending them, and working to counteract deeply-rooted divisions between liberals and conservatives in America. I recommend finding others with different beliefs from your own, and I would not suggest that you should disregard your current friends over smaller political differences. To be exact, don’t ruin the prospect of meeting new friends or spending time with old ones over issues such as tax cuts and raises, setting a minimum wage or federally-subsidized healthcare, but if a friend or someone you would want to befriend starts discussing beliefs in their racial supremacy, it would probably be wise to end the relationship. While listening to anyone who may challenge our dearly held beliefs is difficult, doing so is more than worth it to overcome the spiteful discourse which might otherwise happen. Furthermore, not all friendships need to be based on politics, though news of bills, policies and political gaffes seem to plague our everyday lives.
Some may say that talking to people with different views is difficult – or even impossible – because political opinions and views are rooted in one’s own morals and values, meaning that two people who disagree on one issue must disagree on the very fundamentals of life itself. The former statement I support, but the latter portion of the argument is not necessarily true. What people support in the realm of politics is naturally tied to their own beliefs; for example, one who supports extending good faith and compassion to those in need might support refugee resettlement programs and foreign aid, while someone who thinks that people are responsible for their own success might support less spending on welfare programs but might be in favor of commiting more money to public and private education. Using this example again, both hypothetical people want others to succeed and think they should, at the very least, receive some level of help from a government body. The end – helping others to succeed – can be met with different means based on the different values of the two individuals. If political disagreements were truly tied to the chasm between two people’s morality, then they surely wouldn’t have the same ends in mind.
The idea that different people may have different solutions to the same issue which effectively meet the same ends is what allows for political discourse, for if there were to be no contrasting views which led to no various solutions, debates and dialogues could never be meaningful, let alone exist. Staying on your side of the aisle can only last so long before nothing gets accomplished and everyone involved leaves frustrated. Not to mention that the inability to listen to others’ views and tactfully respond to them is quite immature, and the last thing that modern political discourse needs is immaturity. If someone shuffles out into the aisle, whether willingly or cautiously, whether with a hand out or hands stuffed into their pockets, someone must start a dialogue. I’m not asking you to take everything someone might say seriously, or even that you should silence your own opinions to listen to others, but rather just leave the chance of meeting someone with new and different ideas to your own open. If we ever hope to reduce the tide of polarization and partisanship that plagues this nation, someone must start talking.