Political Polarization: a national epidemic

Kiran Singh, Beyond Liberty Editor

Everyone’s had a moment where they’ve automatically judged someone for their political affiliation. It’s a common reaction you can’t be blamed for having; I’m not innocent either. However, this line of thinking is part of a bigger disease that’s dividing our nation to the point of no return. Symptoms include: an inability to listen to opposing viewpoints, passionate yet baseless arguments, and aggressive stereotyping. The diagnosis? Political polarization.
Definition: forming opinions based on personal political party affiliation instead of personal belief or reasoning. More so, it’s the “liberal” and “conservative” labels that dominate the national political spectrum.
Some who identify as liberals will stereotype those who identify as conservatives as Bible-toting, gun-wielding, Republican Texans; on the other hand, some conservatives think liberals are unemployed, blue-haired millennials with feminism degrees.
This creates a nation in which (for example), I, a conservative, won’t listen to “liberals,” a nation in which our political leaders can’t compromise because their parties push them to disagree for the sake of their image, and a nation in which every four years, the same parties fight about the same issues with the same stances on biased news and media outlets.
Some argue political polarization is natural, that opposing parties will always exist. I’m not saying we should abolish all parties and have a singular government (1984, anyone?). However, the level of political polarization in modern America is inhibiting our nation’s development.
It damaged the GOP this election, given that Ted Cruz, the intended nominee, was beaten by the more radical Donald Trump, who offers no compromise on his “conservative” ideals. The Democrats haven’t it easy either: Hillary Clinton lacks support from Democratic voters because Bernie Sanders, a “democratic socialist,” won hearts with his “free college” promises.
Thus, the public expects political platforms to follow party stereotypes, hurting both nominees. Since neither major party offers a middle ground, more people are registering as independents. Moreover, the biggest consequence doesn’t just hurt dominating parties: it affects our daily lives.
Our nation is undergoing an identity crisis because of the expectations put upon people to live up to the stereotypes of their affiliated party. If I said I was a hard-right Catholic supporting marijuana legalization and immediate citizenship for illegal immigrants, or a PNW liberal opposing gay marriage and NAFTA, you’d call me crazy. Why? Because everyone has innate idea expectations of what parties reflect about people’s positions on pertinent issues; that, in itself, stems from loyalty to parties, not policies or perspectives.
Political polarization sprouted a national identity crisis, erasing any collective abilities to compromise and hold productive discourse. We must be able to engage in discussions not based on party philosophy. We must respect personal thought, aligning ourselves with our beliefs first and our parties after. That, hopefully, will remedy the issue of not knowing where we stand, yet expecting our representatives to do their jobs just as well.