By: Adam Perkinson
At the beginning of most political debates today, one of the first questions people generally ask is, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?”, and if they’re willing to talk to you after you answer, then the actual discussion begins. It’s a simple question that is seemingly the single determining factor as to whether or not you’re going to be able to have a civil discussion. And chances are, you’re not going to because American politics are dominated not by what your argument holds but rather what political party you belong to. And if you belong to the “wrong” party? Name-calling, unfriending, and in some cases, physical attacks. Both sides of the political spectrum are responsible for it, but neither is willing to take the blame. The most common stereotypes are as follows: If you’re a Republican, you’re automatically racist and xenophobic, and if you’re a Democrat, you’re automatically a snowflake and full of hate for the country you live in. And there’s no in-between, either. True centrism died a long time ago, and it’s not coming back anytime soon.
Take our own school for example. Last year for my AP US Government and Politics class, we made a Google Form to survey Heritage students about their political beliefs. What we found was that we as a student body are surprisingly partisan. Almost all of the answers were party-line, meaning that all the answers aligned perfectly with either Republican (Conservative) or Democrat (Liberal) ideals. It’s a phenomenon that is more than likely a result from the political indoctrination we get from our parents. It starts innocently enough as kids listening to their parents discussing the news over dinner. Then, as teens joining the conversation, we simply agree with their parents solely because it’s all we’ve heard growing up. If your parents only have Fox News on, then you’re probably going to be a conservative. Same thing for CNN and growing up liberal. Some parents go as far as specifically raising their children to mirror their beliefs, but studies have shown that people tend to rebel against what they were raised to believe after they reach adulthood. It’s an endless cycle, and it’s one that appears to be continuing for at least another generation.
A growing problem not only in Americans…
The year is 2000. George W. Bush was running against Al Gore, and it came down to one state to decide the next leader of the free world. Bush was declared the President in early December after Gore requested hand recounts that were denied because they were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. There were protests at Bush’s inauguration, but following that, there weren’t really any to speak of (not including the Iraq War protests, but that’s another story entirely).
When contrasted to the 2016 election, however, 2000 seems like a cake walk. There were protests against Trump before he was even nominated as the Republican candidate, never mind when he was elected President. Democratic activists went to Trump’s rallies purely to cause disruption and chaos. And in June 2016, a deranged protestor traveled halfway across the country in a vain attempt to assassinate him, forcing the Secret Service taking over security and vet those who were allowed in.
While the left focused their attacks via physical demonstrations, the right focused theirs by starting smear campaigns against their opponents. Numerous hoaxes were pushed, including one particularly infamous story where Hillary Clinton was the ringleader of a human trafficking and child sex ring in the basement of an otherwise unsuspecting pizza café. It was just one of many smear campaigns launched against Clinton which further polarized Americans.
But why was 2016 so much worse than 2000? For one, it was two of the most unpopular candidates ever running against each other for President of the United States. Each side hated the other equally and wouldn’t hesitate to disparage their fellow American just because they thought differently. Secondly, the way we debated changed. A new type of slur was developed, but it had nothing to do with race or nationality — it was solely political. “Libtard,” “Trumptard,” and “snowflake” became normal dialect, particularly at the end of arguments online.
…But in our government as well.
The problem doesn’t only lie on the shoulders of ourselves. It’s clearly seen in the death of the willingness of our congress to “cross the aisle”. When first elected in 1984, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell was known for his pragmatism in addition to his reputation as a relatively moderate Republican. Since he became Senate minority leader in 2006 (and majority leader in 2015), McConnell has invoked cloture (the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster) over 500 times. In stark contrast, prior to 1971, the total number of times cloture was filed totaled less than seven for every session of Congress. The unwillingness of our leaders to work with members of other parties means that the will of the American people is not a priority — it’s what’s best for getting reelected. Instead of risking being seen collaborating with each other, Democrats and Republicans stick to their respective sides, because if they don’t, they’re threatened by their party. And sometimes, party leaders go as far as lying to their opponents and taking advantage of a national tragedy in order to override them.
Any logical person would think that this would mean we would vote in a replacement, but for some strange reason, we keep electing them. We ignore the power that we have as citizens of the United States and instead vote to keep the people who consistently fail to enact the changes that we need. I believe that we as a country have underestimated the power we have as Americans to create change. We take for granted the ability we have to effectively create a completely different government every four years, but instead of researching candidates and paying attention to what our elected officials are doing, we go about our daily lives, merely hoping they’re doing a good job. And if they’re not? Oh, then, well, it’s “those damn Democrats,” or it’s “those damn Republicans,” holding everyone back. It’s never the inability of who you voted for, it’s always the other party’s fault, even if it’s not.