Hyper-partisanship has turned our nation into a political battlefield

Greyson Mize, sports beat lead

In 2016, the United States saw one of the most politically polarized elections of the 21st century. Disputes were fueled predominantly by party tribalism, easy access to political arguments via social media, and a culture of fear promoted by both Democrats and Republicans. Since President Trump’s victory, political tensions have only increased, leaving America harshly divided against itself as new controversies surface every week. This ever-growing culture of hyper-partisanship harms the stability of America by pitting its citizens against one another and distracting from efforts towards unity.

Political arguments in 2018 are where common sense, respect, and “agree to disagree” mindsets come to die, but why is that? A large part of why the parties can’t seem to get along seems to be due to deeply ingrained partisan identities. A 2018 psychological study by the University of Maryland found that the likelihood of an individual holding negative opinions about the opposite party and distancing themselves socially from others with opposite opinions relies on political party allegiance as opposed to issue-based ideology. Unfair assumptions and stereotypes about Democrats and Republicans have become commonplace in modern political culture as both parties have taken ownership over objective views on controversial issues while the beliefs of individuals have lost value.

America’s current political culture makes it nearly impossible to create friendships across party lines, a problem that has increased almost tenfold in the past 58 years. In 1960, Pew reported that 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats would be upset if a son or daughter married someone from the opposite party. In 2008, the survey was replicated by YouGov and found that the results had jumped to 27 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats. In 2010, the question was posed again and the results increased to 50 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats. These statistics are an alarming demonstration of the growing political divide between Americans in an era where the United States needs unity more than ever.

Part of the open hostility in today’s environment can be attributed to the comments made by both President Trump and those who oppose him. “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, okay? Just knock the hell … I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise,” President Trump said at a rally in Cedar Rapids Feb. 2016, encouraging his supporters to assault protestors of his campaign.

Similarly, U.S Representative Maxine Waters made a public speech June 2018 which called for the harassment of Republican officials. “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” Waters said. This rhetoric furthers American political culture’s descent into chaos and encourages violence in the place of discussion, a dangerous and irresponsible mindset for politicians to promote.

Anger stemming from fear is another reason civility is absent in today’s politics, largely contributed to by campaign ads. In September of 2016, Wesleyan Media Project reported that 53 percent of advertisements that aired during the previous month had been negative and attempted to “appeal to anger.” Minnesotans saw a variety of ads with this flavor leading up to the Midterm Elections on Nov. 6, most notably the attack ads aired by Dean Phillips and Erik Paulsen. “Phillips claims health care is a moral right, but he didn’t provide it to workers at his coffee shop because he said he wouldn’t make money,” the narrator of an Erik Paulsen attack ad targeting Phillips, said. However, this claim was based on outdated information intended only to falsely paint Phillips as hypocritical. In the 21st century, political disputes and elections are no longer about making America a stronger country. Candidates now grapple for power in a sole effort to prove the opposing party wrong, a childish and unproductive use of our government’s resources and time.

To truly bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats, the first values that need to be reinstated are respect and responsibility. Conversations can’t be productive when violence is seen as the logical alternative and lies are a political tool. Until both ends of the political spectrum can place more value on the people that oppose them than the uniform beliefs their party prescribes, unity is impossible in the United States.