How to Fix Polarization in Politics

Dec 11, 2016 / Jongjin Park

There are a lot of negative things that many politicians tried to falsely spew during this election, from crime rates to murder rates to effects of immigration to effects of the Affordable Care Act. And despite all the positive claims that the candidates will unify the nation/their political party, polarization has been greater than ever. According to a July 16th, 2016 Washington Post article, 4 in 10 people in their political party say the other party’s policies are misguided and a threat to the nation. According to the Pew Research Center, “More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican Party makes them “afraid,” while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party.” The nation is divided more than ever in Politics.

But why is polarization bad? After all, if half of the nation completely disagrees with your political views, is it really harmful to firmly reject their policies and values? Why do we care so much about political unification in a nation that is proud of its democracy and diversity? After Hillary Clinton’s loss on Tuesday, Obama said on Wednesday following the election in a speech that “We have to remember that we're actually all on one team…We’re not Democrats first, we're not Republicans first, we are Americans first... We all want what’s best for this country." And this is why it’s extremely important to think about political polarization in this country. We all want what’s best for the nation.

So how does polarization happen? On Wednesday after the election, I asked a friend what he thought about this entire election process. He responded by saying that there is a real “lack of empathy.” Clinton supporters are failing to understand the worries of white middle-class workers who are tired of the “establishment,” while Trump supporters fail to understand the fear going through Muslim families currently of deportation. It’s not radical to say that so many of us are stuck in our own echo chambers, surrounded by people and news that we happily agree with. In a 2016 interview President Obama did with Youtubers, he was asked by Destin Sandlin, engineer and YouTuber of the channel, “Smarter Every Day,” about his famous speech in 2008. He specifically asked about how he responds to the polarization, despite his firm push for acceptance and tolerance shown in his 2008 speech, in which he yells, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there's the United States of America.” He responds by saying people on the left only listening the left-media and the people on the right only listening to the right-media creates this failure of understanding between the two parties.

He’s absolutely right. The criticism of political correctness, for example, is somewhat contradictory. When Republicans are firmly saying that “Merry Christmas,” shouldn’t be ideologically looked down upon, as opposed to “Happy Holidays,” they’re implicitly conveying that their ideologies should be respected: which, ironically, is the thing the criticisms of political correctness say political correctness is. When conservatives push for the saying of “Merry Christmas,” over “Happy Holidays,” they aren’t trying to say the Christian origins of the nation shouldn’t be denied for the sake of not offending other groups; they’re saying their Christian ideologies should be valued more than any other political view.

Because of the flood of information through the increases of technology, we never think we are ever wrong. When Hillary Clinton campaign tried to focus on helping minorities, such as latinos, that kind of appealing only helps her earn the votes of those minorities, and we’re somehow okay with it. Appeal to Latinos is an appeal to ONLY Latinos because we fail to see the country’s benefits or the individual’s benefits from the benefits of a minority group. It’s why Hillary Clinton, no matter how well she did with black people and and latinos, didn’t affect how majority of the white people voted.

I want to make very clear that I’m not defending any side, but saying “Merry Christmas” shouldn’t be prohibited because of the Christian origins of this nation or saying that Trump’s plan to deport Muslims won’t actually happen, is severely missing the point. The point is not that political correctness is wrong or that deporting Muslims is wrong, but that failing to understand the other side of the spectrum is what causes these actions to take place.

Polarization is bad for precisely these reasons. Congress, for example, is known for extremely unproductive and highly inefficient. According to the Pew Research Center in December of 2015, Congress has only just slightly improved after two unremarkable inefficient years. The most disappointing about all of these effects of polarization is that it mostly doesn’t exist, or at least not complete polarization. According to Pew Research Center, most of us identify as an independent. 33% of Democrats want to find a way to cut immigration. According to the New York Times, both parties agree on tax simplification, regulatory commission, avoiding fiscal cliff, drilling for oil in the Arctic, raise the debt ceiling, helping start-ups, and Iran sanctions. This defensive fight against the other side and the impulse to defend one’s own side denies the progress they can make together.

The solution is simple, but not easy. We need to acknowledge the very fact that the differences between the two parties aren’t the thing that causes polarization. What causes polarization are the people who feel their political views are intrinsically superior and those who believe there is no common bond between the two parties. In the very few episodes of Saturday Night Live’s 42nd season, they were parodying all of the Presidential debates that happened between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. After being acclaimed for the humorous depiction of the two candidates, in the parody of the third debate, the humorous insults and commentary stopped for the two actors: Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin to intentionally break character to hug and embrace those who are politically different, closing their debate parody trilogy with an urge to vote on Election Day. Stephen Colbert, after finding out Donald Trump won in a 1-hour election live special, said:

Get out there. Kiss a democrat. Go hug a Republican. Give a Libertarian a reach-around. The election is over. You survived. Good night. And may God bless America.

And it’s as simple as this. People are mad. People are sad. But most importantly, people are people: capable of unification and love.

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