Polarization: A Problem of the People, by the People, but not for the People | Teen Ink

Polarization: A Problem of the People, by the People, but not for the People

July 13, 2022
By Anonymous

President George Washington warned us that ultimately, parties will become "potent engines" that will "usurp the reins of government." Our nation is battling the exact problem Washington warned us about years ago: polarization. "It's hard to exaggerate how much House Republicans and Democrats dislike each other these days," notes Pulitzer winning journalist Juliet Eilperin. Polarization is dangerous: it impedes our minds and stops us from thinking clearly. It is when the two parties move even farther down the spectrum, losing touch with both voters and issues. Polarization essentially undermines democracy, meaning that it will be our downfall if we cannot find a way to mitigate its effect.

Most Americans are politically moderate; Pew research finds that the majority of Americans, around 50 to 60 percent, are neutral on issues. If representatives are supposed to accurately portray the people's will, then why are they so extreme when the people they are representing are moderate? The reality is that representatives only "represent" a segment of the population: those who care to vote. Only around 40 to 50 percent of the population even votes in Congressional elections. Voters are more likely to include those who have a more extreme stance on issues(as those with stronger beliefs are more likely to vote), especially as the candidates grow increasingly more extreme, and therefore unappealing to the moderate voter.

It is not just the lack of voting, but also the changing demographic of the nation. "I didn’t vote for him but he’s my President, and I hope he does a good job" noted John Wayne (b. 1907) on the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. "I hope he fails," noted Rush Limbaugh (b. 1951) on the election of Barack Obama in 2008. There has been a drastic change just 50 years later. Consider the Silent Generation, those who lived through the Great Depression. Today, the members of the Silent Generation are around 80 or 90, and many are passing away. Their generational values, notes the American Interest, “including a willingness to sacrifice for the country, concern for the general welfare, a mature character structure, and adherence to a shared civic faith—reduced social and political polarization.” The first quote sums up the values of this generation. As they pass away, these strong patriotic values do too. Extreme partisanship rises, and there’s no such thing as a liberal Republican or a conservative Democrat.

Other aspects of society contribute towards this polarization trend. The End of the Cold War means that the entirety of America does not have a common enemy. This results in polarization and fighting among ourselves. Today, even wars against foreign countries are political. Technology, especially social media, exacerbates this problem by spreading the videos(that may contain false information) just because they have more "likes." "Geographic sorting" means Americans today live in politically like minded communities: This just makes us more extreme in our political beliefs, because people around us are constantly agreeing with it.

On evaluating all of the causes of polarization, it seems that the only aspect we can control is voting. We cannot control the nation's demographic or social media "likes." Voting is the only solution: everyone needs to pitch in, evaluate candidates, and vote. At the start, candidates will be politically extreme, but as more and more people vote, parties will invariably tend to nominate more moderate candidates that reflect people’s will. Over time, the House and Senate will truly represent the will of the nation, including most moderate Americans, instead of just the extreme partisan voters. Then perhaps will society be more conducive to the ideal of a "United" States of America.





The author's comments:

I was inspired to write this piece after reading news reports about polarization and political extremism. It is extremely cliche to say that the solution is voting and just encourage more of the population, especially youth, to vote, but it is the only solution. This piece analyses polarization and the issue from a broad lens. 

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