Every morning I like to lay in bed reading the news of the day, enjoying the peace and quiet of my apartment before begrudgingly forcing myself out of bed to face the chaos of the outside world. I usually avoid scanning over the comments on these articles as they are often a place void of healthy debate and mostly full of immature tactics such as name-calling. Recently, I started to think that maybe I shouldn’t be ignoring what these people are saying. It demonstrates how much trouble we’re really in. To my dismay, the art of the healthy debate is dead.
My pessimism is generated not only from what is being discussed in the news, but how it’s being discussed by the public. From personal experience, it seems that this kind of toxic discussion is not only present in comments on articles online but has made a home in many other parts of political discussion. It appears both ends of the political spectrum, the left and the right, are alienating themselves. This “us-versus-them” dynamic is creating an aggressive political climate that is lacking constructive debate over policy.
People assign themselves as “left or right”. Then, rigid like the roots of a tree, “plant” themselves on one side of the political fence and refuse to move (all the while cursing those on the other side). In their unwillingness to allow their world view to be challenged by obtaining information from varied sources, people have made themselves vulnerable. Many people don’t demand better policies as they only care about the party itself. Blind faith has allowed citizens to fall into the popularity trap. It doesn’t matter what the right does because it’s not left, and vice versa.
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Sure, politics has always been deeply dividing as a person’s political beliefs are often a large part of who they are. And true, disagreements over major political opinions have often created friction – but this over-aggressiveness seems to be preventing actual progress and change. But why is this occurring? Has this always been a consequence of democracy? Is this a recurring cultural phenomenon that has been placed under a magnifying glass by social media – and the ability to comment, sometimes anonymously, on news articles?
In their book, Liars! Cheaters! Evildoers! – Demonization and the End of Civil Debate in American Politics, Tom de Luca and John Buell discuss the rise of malice in current American political debate. They state that the growing divide between the left and right has its roots in the 60s. The Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War ear have had a major impact on political discourse. Minority groups have been gaining a platform on the political front and are challenging the historically “conservative” way of life.
The rise of movements like Black Lives Matter, the increase in LGBTQ rights, and a more sexually free and racially diverse Western society is pushing previous boundaries. This seems to have increased fear on both sides of the political spectrum: those who fear that their way of life is being threatened, and those who believe their rights are being denied by allowing the current way of life to continue. It doesn’t help that both sides are being radicalized by one another (If you support BLM you hate white people! If you support Trump you’re a bigot!).
I believe we are reaching a boiling point as society is coming to terms with the fact that these extremes cannot coexist. This paranoia has caused aggressiveness out of desperation, and this desperation has eroded the ability to see the “other” as a fellow human with a difference of opinion and unique perspective on life.
So where do we go from here? How can we create better political discourse if now all the other side has to do is scream “fake news” when they don’t like what they read? Is it possible for people to view political matters through an impartial lens, one that isn’t clouded by race or “left” and “right”? Many people are willingly keeping themselves in a bubble consisting of only information from their end of the political spectrum – how do we pop that bubble? How do we restore the art of healthy debate in modern society? If we can dissolve the tendency to reduce each other down to simply “left” or “right” stereotypes and attempt to look at the larger mechanisms at work, we might be able to create a future that is more inclusive and eradicate the recent trend of demonizing the “other”.