The turbulent 2016 campaign and election seemed to mark the apex of post-Vietnam political polarization in America. Fox News, Breitbart, and Info Wars perpetuated outlandish conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton (the story that claimed she was running a child sex ring particularly stands out), while the left frequently generalized all Trump supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic deplorables. Presidential Debates, once policy-driven ideological battles, became a cringeworthy competition between the candidates to deliver the most viral soundbytes as possible.* Social media, more prominent in the 2016 election than ever before, perpetuated fake news stories that further enraged voters from both parties. Understandably, these unprecedented occurrences did little to unify an already polarized nation. Rather, they contributed to the rise of tribal politics, a culture of party-line politics with little or no attempts to understand the viewpoints of opposing ideologies. For our country to effectively pass legislation again, this party before principle brand of politics must change.
The current climate in Washington provides no hope for addressing the magnitude of complex issues facing our country. As it now stands, whichever party holds a majority in congress tries to ram legislation through congress, frequently without mere deliberation with the minority party. Then, when the other party gains a majority, the new reining power tries to repeal all of the legislation of the preceding party and force its own legislation through congress. This is not how a functioning democracy should work. Issues that will outlive every member of the current congress (global warming, terrorism, nuclear proliferation) must be addressed without the petty partisanship of today. It’s time for both parties in congress to understand that the only way to implement successful long-term policies is to work with opposing parties on creating thoughtful compromises that better the lives of Americans. The same goes for voters.
Many Americans now live in a bubble of partisanship — their friends, families, news sources, and religious institutions (also known as their “tribe”) all share the same politics. Ranging from the Evangelical Fox News viewer to the millennial Huffington Post reader, Americans live in a political echochamber where their opinions are often affirmed, reiterated, and validated, though never challenged. Voters and politicians must instead strive to seek out civil discourse. Thoughtful civil discourse challenges the viability of a political viewpoint, often identifying its flaws. It forces people to examine the logic behind their own opinions and can illuminate new ways of thinking. Unlike the overtly partisan politics of today, civil discourse inspires authentic political engagement that yields durable legislation.