By Yannis Trittas
When our editors approached Jay Cruger and I this cycle and proposed a topic for our column, my colleague and I did not disagree vastly. Funny enough, that’s not as rare of an occurrence as many would expect it to be. As President of the John Jay College Democrats, a political science major, and an operative of the Democratic Party, I wear my party on my sleeve (or more literally, my backpack which is covered in buttons of campaigns I’ve worked on).
Jay Cruger is the President of the John Jay College Republicans, but he is also someone I consider a friend. While we may disagree on the best way to accomplish our goals, we have the same mindset; to serve our fellow citizens and strengthen the United States of America.
Political polarization in the United States has hit hard, particularly in the past decade. Democrats and Republicans see themselves as being in a culture war, seeing their party identification not as a choice that most closely represents their political views, but something much more personal. References to red states vs. blue states are very common, dividing up our United States and creating rivalries among Americans.
Furthermore, classifying a state by the majority party marginalizes members of the minority party and leaves those voters feeling hopeless and resenting those with other views. This occurs to a different degree at the local, state, and national level.
Many events have divided our country ideologically in the past, but the current state of affairs is worse than ever with expected vitriol between political adversaries. There are many reasons for this, but the main ones in my opinion, are the mainstream media, the internet’s increased role in information gathering, extreme factions within the parties, and Citizens United.
Mainstream media has fetishised partisanship for many years, with some of the most evident perpetrators being Crossfire, Hannity and Colmes, or the local NY1’s Political Rundown, which features Gerson Borrero and Curtis Sliwa. They masquerade as “debate” shows which showcase liberals and conservatives battling it out in front of a studio audience while propagating the lie that they offer two viewpoints so that viewers can choose for themselves.
In reality, they serve as a way to double viewership by including two demographics, liberal and conservative, in one timeslot. With content that puts preference on quick jabs and personal attacks instead of intelligent debate, the purpose of the programs are revealed. The viewers of these shows do not watch them with the prospect of changing their mind, they watch them to see the opposition trashed.
The rise of the internet also increased partisanship, offering a place for those on the extreme left and right a larger audience than they could have ever had before.
Our Facebook feeds allow us to mute those that post statuses that oppose our views. This is especially dangerous considering the Pew Research Center reports that 63% of conservatives and 49% of liberals say most of their close friends share their views, a circumstance which it has termed an “ideological silo”. Left and right wing blogs can spin news in ways conventional news agencies cannot and spread misinformation on a massive scale.
These blogs and forums create a haven for the more extreme members of parties and allow them to organize fringe groups within the party. A perfect example is the Tea Party, which has succeeded in pushing the Republican party towards far more conservative stances by threatening current leadership with electoral challenges.
In 2014, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost the primary for his seat in Congress, despite having held that seat since 2001, to an economics professor without experience in elected office, named Dave Brat. Cantor had outspent Brat 40 to 1, but Brat’s Tea Party backers had doomed Cantor by painting him as too much of a moderate.
The Citizens United ruling which removed caps on campaign contributions by special interest groups also contributes to more partisan rhetoric by parties. President Obama said, in reference to the ruling, “You have some ideological extremists who have a big bankroll, and they can entirely skew our politics. And there are a whole bunch of members of Congress right now who privately will tell you, ‘I know our positions are unreasonable but we’re scared that if we don’t go along with the Tea Party agenda or some particularly extremist agenda that we’ll be challenged from the right.”
Moving towards the middle is necessary for the good of our country. It’s in our nature to feel passionately about things, and as social beings, we tend to align with people with whom we can agree with. Associating with only those who share similar views restricts our knowledge and stifles our progress as a whole. A polarized world without positive interactions among different people is detrimental to society. The best way to truly accomplish our shared goals is to compromise and learn from each other.