by Eliana Shin (’22) | November 16, 2020
With the 2020 presidential election over, we’re seeing a trend on the rise. Political polarization is twisting partisanship into an ugly rift between fellow Americans.
Of course, there are the inevitable disagreements as to what is best for the country, or what should be prioritized in government. That is why there are political parties in the first place. But the distrust and dislike of those who don’t share the same perspectives is now surpassing the fellowship felt with those who do, and that can’t be good. Taking more pleasure in the other’s loss than in one’s own gain speaks to a toxic relationship.
While political polarization has been an ongoing trend for decades, I only noticed it in the past year. Maybe my late realization is due to my still-developing knowledge and passion for the policies relevant to my community, my future, and my intersectionality. Or maybe it’s because of all that has happened in the past year: Trump’s impeachment being set into motion by the House of Representatives, a widespread international virus, the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement, and much more.
Suddenly, I’m seeing nearly everything turn into a political issue. In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Republican and Democratic presidential candidates took opposing stances on mask-wearing. President-elect Joe Biden stated he would “do everything possible to make it required that people have to wear masks in public.” On the other hand, President Donald Trump held back from mandating masks, even insinuating that they could be seen as a statement against him. I argue, out of common sense, that a literal health precaution shouldn’t be up for political debate, but it’s unfortunately been made that way.
So it’s more than policies and principles that are dividing us; there’s also significant anxiety here. What if my party loses? Will my rights be compromised? How are we to handle the environmental crisis? What if I can’t afford healthcare? There was also a fear concerning the results of the presidential election: rioting and violent protests. Public and private spaces boarded up windows and doors in anticipation of an aggressive reaction. Is this what we’ve come to?
I’m looking to Joe Biden and Donald Trump as the “faces” of the major parties; their disagreeable relationship is mirrored in their supporters and members of their respective parties. The presidential debates contained an unnecessary amount of badly-disguised slander, especially when compared to the amount of policy explanation. The first presidential debate really keyed me into this idea of negative partisanship. It benefits no one and harms everyone, so why are we still practicing it?
I have a guess. Most often, individual areas contain like-minded people who hold the same, or similar, political opinions. These people garner validation from each other, and their like-minded leaders, and their passion for certain policies or politicians intensify. With increased enthusiasm comes stronger dislike of the opposite. It’s true: you are who you surround yourself with.
But like it or not, we’re all on the same team. We’re going to have to get along; God forbid Civil War II. I can almost see my APUSH teacher shaking his head right about now, but in a sense, Americans are in a Cold-Civil War period, with tensions running high and shots fired through propaganda-esque messages. Consequently, as we enter the next presidential term, I warn my fellow Americans of the ever-present threat of political polarization.