Political polarization afflicts us, but it can be overcome

Trust in government and each other at risk

The political landscape in America is the most polarized it has been since the Civil War. Leaders on  both sides of the aisle routinely persecute those of the opposite leaning. 

Political polarization erodes people’s trust in the government and in each other, which is more important now than ever with a new presidential administration taking office in January. It is paramount that students at Miramonte and other schools, especially those of voting age, make an effort to research multiple sides of issues and practice greater tolerance toward different political views.

The consequences of political polarization affect both the wider political environment and every American individually. 

  “Polarization like this causes a breakdown in compromises, increased governmental gridlock, and the growing impression that the government does not work for us,” Miramonte AP U.S. History teacher Jackson Avery said. 

On the wider political spectrum, polarization leads moderates to distrust the political system. According to Gallup, a political analytics company, in 2000, just 28 percent of people were dissatisfied with the federal government while in Sept. 2020, 85 percent of people were dissatisfied. Because of this discontent with the government, citizens’ trust in politics erodes, contributing to the greater polarization of views among Americans. 

Belittlement and disagreement between Democrats and Republicans is not a new issue. Discourse between the two parties helps represent different opinions and points of view. 

Since the 2016 presidential election between President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the conflict between the two parties has become more apparent. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, every year since 2004, Democrats become more likely to vote consistently liberal and Republicans consistently conservative rather than a mix of both. 

 In the current political climate, it is hard to believe that, according to Gallup, around one-third of voters are moderate. The political landscape seems more polarized because those with more radical views, conservative or liberal, are more likely to start political conversations, show vocal support for specific political candidates, or even run for office, because they’ve invested more of their time and identity into their political leaning. Those with the most radical views speak over those who are more moderate. This is harmful because boisterous and radical partisans can scare those who seek to understand an opposing viewpoint and don’t adequately represent the majority of their party, which leads to more misunderstandings and misgivings.

Although the polarization of American politics is more complex than a single factor, the over-exposure of radical voices via social media also fosters political antagonizing among people and helps encourage the idea that people from opposing political parties are threatening, contributing to the exasperation of this polarization. Social media platforms use advertisements to gain revenue and thus display topics that each individual user is more likely to click on. Therefore, people are generally exposed to information on social media that they are comfortable with instead of opinions that challenge their political beliefs. When on social media, everyone should be wary of what they’re viewing and consuming.

On an individual level, political polarization impacts the lives of American citizens as people tend to surround themselves with friends of the same political attitudes. According to the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of liberals and 49 percent of conservatives surround themselves with people of the same political ideology. Although this is more comfortable, it creates an echo chamber where no new ideas are being generated or debated. 

Even friendly debates between friends expose people to different ideas and discourage the reinforcement of problematic ways of thinking. Reading political opinion pieces from an opposite viewpoint can also expand one’s knowledge of a certain issue and foster a more open-minded attitude.

It is easy to get caught up in one’s own political beliefs and make them a part of one’s identity, thus discrediting points that challenge individual beliefs. But by listening to others, people can be enlightened to a new way of thinking about a subject.

It is also important to understand the biases of information sources.

  “I avoid polarization in the news by reading American news from sources free of political bias, such as BBC,” said Byron Chan, president of the Miramonte chapter of the High School Democrats of America. 

It is better to receive information from a nonpartisan organization than from a more biased news source, which only caters to certain viewpoints. For example, opinion pieces from Fox News versus CNN will be very different in content and ideas.

With the election just behind us, even those who don’t actively participate in politics were exposed to the political landscape. It is important that people keep themselves informed to form educated opinions, but when doing so, people should consider reading opinions from both sides of an argument and discussing topics with people other than those of similar political ideals. 

Considering both sides of an argument will allow everyone to gain a more educated and open-minded outlook during the political whirlwind to come.