American Polarization: The Deep Freeze in Political Unity

During the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in United States History, Americans still had hope in their country. To modern-day Americans, this might seem quite surprising, considering the 1930s were a time of trepidation and poverty. However, Americans during the 1930s had faith in each other, and they had faith in their leaders. They heard stories of people pulling themselves up from poverty and believed they could do the same. And many did. As a nation, we pulled ourselves through the troublesome Great Depression, through a brutal second world war, through the frightening Cold War, and through divisive social issues such as the Women’s Rights and the Civil Rights Movements. Now, it seems as though these same issues are whirling back. But this time, I am worried we will not be able to pull ourselves through. Crises bring people together, but today there seem to be so many comparatively smaller crises, such as natural disasters, terrorist shootings, and social divisions, that we are drowning in the chaos. But that is not why we cannot rise up above the issues. Simply put, it is because everyone seems to hate each other. It is no secret: political polarization is threatening the our nation’s ability to progress.

Polarization is far more than party rivalries, debates, or disagreements. I have been involved in countless debates, whether in Junior State of America, Model UN, Congressional debate, or with friends and family, and they are often are a back and forth of “I am right, you are wrong.” In theory, we learn to appreciate both sides despite this mentality. In the real world,  however, many do not appreciate both sides. So many Americans shun, reject, and hate other Americans who do not share their ideology. In fact, a study reported by the Atlantic in 2012 found that 40% of Americans oppose party intermarriage in comparison to only 5% in 1960.  It is no longer a matter of Democrat versus Republican or Republican versus Democrat. It is a matter of Right versus Wrong, Moral versus Immoral, and Virtue versus Evil. People associate opinions which differ from their own on how our country should be run with immorality. So many Americans are “rooting” for their political party without looking at the issues facing our nation through an unbiased lens.

 In this day and age, it is almost impossible to see issues through an unbiased lens, as news media sources are painstakingly partisan. The media promotes and feeds off of polarization. News outlets know their audience and provide their audience with what it craves: demonization of the other side. Consequently, spiteful rhetoric is becoming the focus of major news sources. One cannot turn on CNN without hearing about Trump’s latest faux pas. One cannot turn on Fox News without (still) hearing about a Clinton scandal. As a result, the real issues become buried and unimportant. Hurricane relief efforts, murders on our streets, and terrorist attacks around the world are becoming secondary to bashing the other side of the political spectrum. As a Layla Nostra, a JSAer from Morton West High School, so eloquently put it, “we are becoming numb to disasters.” How, then, are we ever going to come together? What is it going to take?

I believe the upcoming generation of leaders has a unique opportunity to bring back unity. I have been blessed by meeting so many wonderful individuals who are open-minded and passionate about current events. I cannot fool myself into believing that everyone holds this attitude or cares at all about the state of our world. However, through initiatives like JSA and other engagement opportunities, youth awareness is constantly growing. If we enter the adult world conscious of hatefulness and unconstructive biases, we can start to reverse them. That is only possible if we are able to embrace political diversity and rebuild our American Dream.

~Litsa Kapsalis, Lake Forest High School 

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