What happened to our country? The America I knew? It seems that partisan politics has taken over. Once upon a time, our great nation stood united, despite our differences.
We were a collection of diverse perspectives, yet down deep, we were all Americans. But now, I can’t help but think: America, we need to talk.
Yes, we had the Civil War, but that’s another story for another time. I’m talking about a division that has happened within my own lifetime. Partisan politics has split our country into three distinct Americas, each with its own voice and values. Most prominent is the Far Right and the Far Left.
Sitting all alone is the ever shrinking middle.
The clashes of partisan politics is nothing new, but this is unlike anything I’ve seen before.
Once, those who differed from our own political beliefs were merely regarded as “the opposition.” Today, they’re labeled as “the enemy.” We’ve always engaged in heated debates over pressing issues, but because of partisan politics, it feels like we’ve lost the ability to empathize and connect with those who think differently.
It’s one thing to disagree with someone’s political opinion, but to hate that person because of it it insane.
Have you noticed that the other party is either “extreme”, or “radical?” Nothing in between.
According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats say people in the opposing party are more dishonest than other Americans.
|The other party is more:
think about republicans
think about Democrats
All of this is an increase of over 40% in the last decade.
Increasingly, people are going to the polls not to vote for the person who will best represent them, but because “I want ‘my’ party to be in charge.”
In the recent Senatorial election here in Georgia between Republican Herchel Walker and Democrat Rafael Warnock, there were a lot of issues with Walker lying about his past and such. I read an article in the AJC where they interviewed one man and asked him why he was voting for Walker, despite the lies he had been telling. His answer was “Because I want control of the Senate.”
This devout Republican (and the Democrats are the same way) believed that he was a part of the party, that he would have control.
All he wanted was someone who would vote in lockstep with his club. He was just being played.
People have become tribes. Demographics are increasingly playing a part of which party someone supports.
White people without a college degree and evangelicals are increasingly identifying as Republicans, and most nonwhite voters and a majority of white people with a college degree skew Democrat.
See my take on race relations here.
Partisan Politics Affects Reasoning
According to a study done in 2015, a group of Democrats and Republicans were asked to review the résumés of two fictitious high-school students. They were more likely to give a scholarship to the student who more identified with their own party. The subjects favored a political party more than the student’s race or grades.
There was another study in 2013 that was supposed to assess the math skills of a mix of liberals, conservatives and moderates (this was based on their own assessments). The researchers gave them a politically charged math problem to solve, showing data that pointed to whether cities that had banned concealed handguns had a decrease or increase in crime. In half the tests, solving the problem correctly showed that a concealed-carry ban reduced crime rates. In the other half, the correct solution would suggest that crime had risen.
This was the result: The more proficient the test-takers were at math, the more likely they were to get the correct answer, but only when the right answer matched their political views. When the right answer ran contrary to their political stance, such as when liberals drew a version of the problem suggesting that gun control was ineffective, they tended to give the wrong answer, and the same with conservatives.
People who’s reasoning was affected by partisan politics were no more likely to solve the problem correctly, than were people in the study who were less adept at math.
Partisan Politics And The Economy
Nowhere is Partisan politics more visible than in opinions of the economy. I saw on Facebook the other day where someone complained that the price of Krispy Kreme donuts had gone up, and then another person blamed the President. I was unaware that the President of the United States had control of donut prices.
Everything bad that happens is the fault of the “other” side, and everything good is because of “our” side.
If gas prices go up because of the rising price of oil (oil is priced on the global market, our country’s economy has nothing to do with it), it’s the President’s fault. I wonder if the high gas prices in Europe are his fault as well?
Inflation goes up, one side says it’s because of the President’s failed policies, it goes down, the other side credits it to him.
We have a good economy, it’s because of the President, we have a recession, it’s his fault.
Discourse In The Past
Remember the Vietnam War? Back then, Republicans leaned toward staying the course, while Democrats advocated for withdrawal. The civil rights movement? It split the nation between North and South, with the latter predominantly opposing racial integration.
But even during those tumultuous times, even though there was sometimes violent disagreement on those topics, people could still agree on other things. It wasn’t a blanket hatred for the “other side” that our society sees now.
My opinion is that perhaps the start of this partisan politics division can be traced back to the year 2000, when the “hanging chad” election drama culminated in a Supreme Court decision to declare the winner. That moment seems to have marked the beginning of this ever growing divide, and it has only grown wider ever since.
We’re now caught in a whirlwind of Red vs. Blue, Republicans vs.Democrats.
Americans vs. Americans.
Red vs. Blue
Our political landscape has become defined by colors, where red and blue have transformed into the symbols of our division.
Note: I used red for Republicans and Blue for Democrats, as that is today’s standard. But up until 2000, those colors were alternated between the two parties by the TV networks. One year the Democrats were red and the Republicans blue, the next election they swapped. The contentious 2000 presidential election so ingrained in people’s minds that red = Republican, and blue = Democrat, that starting with the 2004 election the networks made those colors permanent.
This video of the 1980 Presidential election is showing Reagan states as blue, with Carter’s states as red.
So without Bush v Gore we wouldn’t have “red state / blue state.”
For a brief moment after the 9/11 tragedy, it seemed like the nation was rallying together against a common enemy. But that lasted like 5 minutes, dissolving almost as quickly as it had formed. Because of partisan politics, there’s hardly anything now that both sides can agree on.
It’s The Internet’s Fault
No, it’s not really. Having better access to information will never be a problem. The problem is people. “Back in my day” we had limited access to news. TV news was from our three local channels, and three national news broadcasts. Newspapers were mostly local news, and some national.
If someone killed someone in Arkansas, we probably didn’t hear about it in Atlanta.
I randomly chose a CBS Evening News broadcast from March 24, 1978 to see what was in the national news that day. Here’s the rundown:
- Coal miner’s strike votes
- Israeli President Begin returned home from his visit to the US and opposition to his hard line policies
- Secretary of State Cyrus Vance denying a report that claims the Carter administration wants Begin removed from office
- Syrians stopped from shipping weapons to Palestinians for use in Lebanon
- Shootout in area south of Paris during attempt to drop off ransom for kidnapped Belgian industrialist Édouard-Jean Empain
- Former mayor of Turin, Italy, shot by members of Red Brigades
- Due to flu, Pope Paul VI unable to attend Good Friday Way of the Cross Procession
- Pentagon drastically cutting Navy plan to build more ships over next five years
- Details on Carter’s national urban policy are leaked to press in anticipation of Monday rollout
- 26 block stretch of sewers in South Bronx hit with mass explosions
- FEC finds Ford’s 1976 campaign spent $23.5 million, mostly federal funds
- HEW admits to hiring less handicapped persons than other federal agencies
- Buffalo Bills trade O.J. Simpson to San Francisco 49ers for five draft choices over next three years
- Supertanker Amoco Cadiz torn in two by heavy seas off coast of Brittany, France
- “On the Road” report from Charles Kuralt from Indian Shores in Florida, where Ralph Heath nurses sick birds back to health from his Sun Coast Sea Beach Sanctuary
I can see nothing in that report that screams partisan politics.
Today we’re able to pick and choose our news sources. And because of partisan politics, too many people choose sources that more align with their views.
Today we have 24-hour “news” networks, but they are mostly opinion programs.
Fox News, which typically skews toward the right, has fourteen programs running from 6AM until Midnight. Of those fourteen, three appear to be strictly news with no opinion, one is two hours long. That’s 4 hours out of 18 (22%) dedicated to news.
CNN, which is mostly left-leaning, has eleven different programs during the same time period. Of those eleven, again, three appear to be actual news, two are three hours long. They dedicate 38% to news.
I could have watched some of the news programs to see if they seemed partisan, but I didn’t want to.
The rest are opinion shows, and of course, the opinion will reflect the partisan politics of the network.
People graduate toward networks that agree with their bias, they never see the other side. All they see is confirmation of their hatred of the opposing party.
This is not the fault of access to more information, it’s the fault of closed minded people.
America, Communicate With Me
I’m reminded of an old Ray Stevens song that aptly captured the sentiment of the 70s, and it still resonates today.
Ray Stevens, mostly known for novelty songs like “The Streak”, and “Ahab the Arab,” also wrote some serious songs. His biggest hit was “Everything is Beautiful.”
Stevens’ song was written in 1970 during the Vietnam War protests, and it echoes the dissonance that reverberated through 1970s America.
It started off with a “man on the street” type interview:
Interviewer: “Excuse me, ma’am, what do you think about all the protests in America today?”
Woman: “Well, my advice to all the demonstrators would be either love it or leave it.”
Interviewer: “Pardon me, sir, what do you think of America and all the protests that’s going on?”
Man: “Protest, huh, well, I think they may have a valid point, I mean, like, something’s got to be done in America. Either we change it or lose it.”
Then the lyrics of the song are:
“I’m tired of all your protests
They’re getting out of hand
And all you politicians
You’re too vague to understand
And somewhere in the middle of
Two extremes without a plan
I’m just the average man
Just trying to do the best I can”
“And I’ve had it with the preacher
I don’t walk to him no more
Everybody’s spreading doubts with shouts
Of politics and war
And from where I stand
It don’t make sense to be against or for
Seems like nowadays
There is no call to reason anymore”
“Three small bullets took the leaders
That could help us all unite
And the people split asunder
In their search for truth and right
And the rabble-rousers
Preached distorted views from left and right
And the rockets red glare
Searches for the dawn’s early light”
“But despite your flaming headlines
I’ll still keep my faith in you
And you’re still the same great country
That I pledge allegiance to
Call me a sentimental patriot
Well I guess that could be true
Well I can’t help but think
A lot of people feel the way I do”
“’Cause the answers aren’t all yes or no
To or fro, stop or go
And everything’s not left or right
Black or white, day or night”
“America, my country ’tis of thee
America, communicate with me”
We need this, we need communication. Put partisan politics aside. The three parts of America need to learn how to talk.
It’s time to take civility back. It’s time to take common sense back.
It’s time to take our country back.