For the past few decades, the United States looks less like one nation and more like a divided one as it appears on our election maps: split along red and blue voting lines. It’s a dangerous state to be in. Our country’s two halves are further apart than ever, and the divide is still growing.
But this division is nothing new. The bipartisan system is, by its very nature, a competition. Each party wants to control the government by itself, but the system is designed to prevent this from happening. The moment any ground is gained, it gets ripped right back to the center.
Another election cycle arrives, and all progress is swept away by changes in leadership. The opposing sides prevent an ideal United States from ever being realized.
The political divide is a leash on our nation, holding it back from greatness. We are tempted to imagine what our country could accomplish if it were truly a united nation, if it were able to make its demands in a single, deafening voice. We could fix health care, improve the environment and refine the education system, all in a single election cycle. A state in harmony would be capable of achieving the highest of its aspirations, but we must consider which aspirations we choose to follow and, more importantly, if our choice would be the right one.
But the very notion that there is a correct choice — that there exists an ideal set of policies to fix the nation — is misleading. A profit-driven approach benefits the economy at the cost of environmental protections or labor union interests. Conversely, regulations that protect the environment and the laborer unavoidably put a check on economic growth. Policies are double-, triple-, quadruple-edged, and it’s often impossible to tell whether a policy has helped more than it has harmed.
Too often, we assume that the idea we prefer is the right one, but in a country so massively diverse as ours, there is no such thing as a “right” policy. Most of the time, we settle for the ones that might make just a fraction of an improvement and won’t be batted down by Congress. We settle for possible and, to this aim, unanimity is fatal. Research shows that the problem-solving ability of a group is crippled when it lacks internal conflict. Scrutiny tempers ideas — it forces us to come up with better solutions. A group divided is capable of achieving far more than one that stands in solidarity.
Still, too much disagreement can’t be good for the nation, and our divide is growing at a steady rate. Not every topic has a compromise: disagreements on gun control and immigration seem insoluble; our deep-rooted ideologies make communication impossible, let alone convergence.
We must stop thinking of our divide as something that needs to be bridged. Talk of growing division conjures the image of a fractured America, but it also gives us the wrong idea of what our aim should be: not to unify our opinions but to better understand why they differ.
Policies can’t be written off as wrong, as simple as it would be to do so. Consider the positions you find unthinkable — morally reckless, even — and consider the reasons they inspire such strong support. Stances on closed-immigration policy and gun rights are designed to safeguard the country and its liberties. Whether they could achieve this is up for debate, but they still deserve the chance to try. Beyond that, they deserve the consideration of the entire country. The moment that we recognize the opposition’s validity is the moment that our divide becomes a workable tool of politics, rather than the obstacle that it’s begun to resemble.
Our country seems to sit at crossroads every day, and it seems we choose the wrong path more often than the right one. With so much at stake, it’s difficult to accept that you can only have one hand on the steering wheel and sometimes not even get that. The important thing is to have the right vision of progress, to understand that it isn’t in gaining more control, but in learning how to better share the country — even if that means letting go of the wheel.
Dillon Cranston is a freshman writing about politics. His column, “Holding Center,” runs every other Tuesday.