by Alexander Chang (’23) | March 1, 2021
Four years of the Trump Administration have flown by without a hitch. That is, of course, excluding the inconclusive border wall, futile trade war, economic crisis, and pandemic among other things, but nevertheless, it went by as smoothly as sandpaper. However, the political and economic consequences of the past four years pale in comparison to the largest impact of the Trump Administration by far: the rapid rise in political polarization.
Despite what your everyday “social media activists” might claim on their Instagram stories, political polarization is not a new phenomenon in the United States. The Gilded Age, for instance, was one of the most politically polarized periods of our nation’s history. Yet your favorite online influencer does have a point when it comes to the current polarization we are facing. You see, the wave of polarization we are facing now is far more ideological than the simple party divisions of the Gilded Age, making it far more dangerous. The lack of bipartisanship in Congress will surely spiral each political faction into an endless cycle of radicalization and mudslinging, ultimately raising this question: what can be done to alleviate Trump’s effects on political polarization?
To solve this problem, we can take several complementary actions to holistically resolve the issue at hand. While there are a multitude of steps we can take ourselves to reduce our vulnerability to polarization, slowing the United States’ trend towards complete polarization will require large fundamental changes to the way our institutions and industries operate in the 21st century. For instance, take the tech sector. Tech companies such as Facebook and Google often utilize algorithms to pair individuals with a vast array of their interests, whether it be social groups or products. While this may be great for online shopping, these algorithms only fuel positive feedback loops between individuals and their political views. This has single handedly spurred the creation of absurd conspiracy theories and political factions such as QAnon. After all, if everyone you talk to online thinks the earth is flat, it probably is, right? Ultimately, having tech companies rework their algorithms can be a key step in ending the polarization we currently face. By popping isolated social media bubbles, it is possible to broaden public exposure to unbiased coverage of the news, rather than simply reinforcing existing predispositions.
Exposure to healthy opposition also ties into another major step we need to take in order to curb the rise of polarization. That is, of course, by reforming our media. Our news anchors and sources truly build the lenses through which we see the world, yet as time has progressed, reporting has become more of a show than a source of information. This can clearly be seen in the rise of partisan news sources and talk shows, with Fox News leaning noticeably conservative and MSNBC leaning noticeably liberal. While I recognize that bias is inevitable in reporting, building entire stories upon partisan views is not an ideal course of action. Yes, partisan media companies are consolidated, and yes, their parent companies have their own political agendas, but for the sake of the American public and the future of this country, I cannot urge this industry more to take responsibility for its actions and reform while it can.
Although the current trend of American politics is not ideal, we can still recover, like we did many years ago. This issue truly rests on the people and institutions we trust to take the first step in the right direction.