According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.” The chasm is exhibited in more than just politics, although the divisions are greatest among those who are the most engaged and active in the political process. In a report issued on June 12, 2014, the Center made the following observation.
Partisan animosity has increased substantially over the same period. In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”
America seems to be the land of extremes. The labels employed so frequently in public discourse are usually an indictment and a stamp of extreme disapproval: right wing, left wing, socialist, capitalist, communist, opponent, liar, criminal, idiot, moron, etc. We are either desperately searching for the next word or deed that will offend us or someone else, or we are so self-absorbed that we care nothing about those outside our circle of friends and supporters. The polarization is crippling. There is no room for compromise but only intense fear that any concession will result in a quick trip down the proverbial slippery slope. Common ground is gone; there are only camps. An opinion or policy is either right or wrong, not worthy of thoughtful consideration or discussion. There are no intentions of improving on an idea or a plan; either reject any suggestions or scrap it altogether. Considering a different path along the same trajectory is out of the question; only the opposite direction is acceptable.
As much as I dislike doom and gloom forecasts based on the current political climate, I am nevertheless disheartened by what appears to be the disappearance of an ideological center in America. So many issues now divide us as a population: abortion, immigration, terrorism, gun violence, the economy, same-sex marriage, etc. Interestingly enough, the research indicates that Democrats are becoming more liberal at a faster rate than Republicans are becoming more conservative (many of my friends would disagree with this finding). A third political party that poses a platform blending hot-button items into some semblance of a synthesis has very little chance of succeeding. The viability of a third party of any kind is almost inconceivable, including the Libertarian Party.
America has a colorful history of political antagonism, even to the point of violence. The Civil War makes the current political waters seem relatively calm by comparison. Yet looking back at the first half of the 20th century when America went through two world wars, it seems that members of those generations had the ability to put their differences aside to concentrate on greater problems. Even during the Reagan administration, when I started paying attention to politics, the divisions didn’t seem as deep as they are now. Sadly, the spirit of cohesion and reconciliation that followed an event as horrific as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was short lived. Hostility almost seems to be equally directed internally and externally.
I know that round-the-clock news coverage from so many sources has certainly heightened awareness of the national debates, and social media sites are breeding grounds for vitriolic memes and declarations that serve to further divide people on a wide variety of issues, from 2nd Amendment rights to welfare reform. The spectacular, if not outrageous, Presidential campaign underway now obviously is bringing a tremendous amount of tension to the surface, forcing so many of us to dive deeper into our tribal nature and choose sides. I am reminded of the familiar lines from the poem by William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming.”
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . .
Perhaps our enemies don’t really need to attack us at all; they just need to be patient, and wait.