Healing the Divide: The issue is not Democrats or Republicans; it is political polarization

Joscelyn Stocks | Daily Trojan

As George Washington left the presidential office, he warned his Americans of the dangers of political parties. In his farewell address, he said, “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

All the way back in 1796, Washington saw political factions as engines of corrupted power and unnecessary conflict. These engines today, fueled by social media and a controversial administration, propel passionate discussion of American politics. The government is not producing cohesive, effective policy, but is rather at a stalemate because it’s divided into the Republican and Democratic parties. Creating and passing legislation is an arduous task and conflicting opinions between Republicans and Democrats hinders political productivity.

With several government shutdowns in recent decades, the United States is undoubtedly vulnerable to gridlock.

According to Bill Bishop, author of “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart,” Democratic and Republican ideologies inversely relate to one another on nearly every political concern pinpointed on a graph, essentially at a ratio of negative one. The two party ideologies contradict one another on nearly every issue at hand.

If there were a middle-ground political ideology, 92 percent of Republicans stand to the right of it and 94 percent of Democrats are positioned to the left of it. The distance measuring this divide has increased by more than 30 percent since 1994, according to surveys conducted by Pew Research Center. The majority of Americans also tend to disdain those who don’t agree with them. Thirty-six percent of Republicans see Democrats as a threat to America’s well-being, whereas 27 percent of Democrats see Republicans as threats. These numbers are not overwhelmingly high, but the fact that they have more than doubled since 1994 is striking. Republican and Democratic ideologies inversely correlate and the majority of affiliates are positioned at these polar opposite ends. Rancorous and zealous crowds are glaring at one another across party lines, in the House of Representatives and, most emblematically, as U.S. President Donald Trump walked into any 2016 presidential campaign event.

Violent screams do not add credibility to the conversation, but I certainly don’t want people to simply agree with my convictions if they see can see flaws in my opinion. I want this criticism to be revealed to me so I can take it into consideration, advance my own knowledge of the situation at hand and potentially formulate a more concrete position. By acknowledging and considering constructive criticism, not only do we increase our amount of information, but we also make progress on developing the best ideas that work for everyone.

Just because I disagree with someone doesn’t mean I don’t seek to learn their perspective because it might open my eyes to new information and help me better understand her objectives. To shut out the opposition is as counterproductive as telling myself that I’m right all the time, which completely stops me from growing and learning.

I grew up in a conservative family, but was also surrounded by a radically liberal group of friends. I know that Republicans and Democrats and conservatives and liberals all have the same goal: to see “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” achieved to the fullest extent as swiftly as possible. We cannot afford to deride one another for our suggestions of different ideas. It is pointless to spend time trying to convince others to agree with us when we do not have a second to spare. It is imperative that not only are we indivisible, but also that we have the public’s full support behind passing the most effective policy at the most highest efficiency.

Regardless of how they plan to achieve prosperity, Americans hope to see the economy thriving, government benefitting its citizens and society blossoming with the fruits of liberty and the seeds of peace. I don’t know when we began to value adherence to our political parties above loyalty to our country, but I dream of a day when we can discuss rather than fight, respect rather than belittle and negotiate instead of preparing for war.

Arianna Scavone is a junior majoring in communications and law, history and culture. Her column, “Healing the Divide,” runs every other Thursday.