There’s no disagreement, America is particularly politically polarized right now. Whether you are talking about race, gender, taxes, how taxes are spent, the police, mental health, guns, school shootings, healthcare, healthcare reform, abortion, adoption, women in combat, hate speech, student loans . . . the list is never ending. But, what is political polarization?
“Political Polarization” is a difference of opinion involving politics that are held by a person or party to the extreme. One example is women in combat: people who align ideologically with the Republican Party tend to believe strongly that women should not be in combat, while people who align ideologically with the Democratic Party tend to believe strongly that women should be able to take on combat roles in the military.
The problem with “polarization” is that once a person or party begins to feel strongly on a particular subject, it is extremely difficult for that person to listen to information that objectively would contradict and unseat their belief. The problem with “political polarization” is that instead of looking for a common good for the country, the members of a particular party (most commonly in the United States the Democratic Party or the Republican Party) issue opinions on particular issues and their constituency sides with the party with which they hold membership instead of evaluating the merit of a particular issue or stance on their own or from the perspective of producing the best result.
To compound an already existing problem, the term “toxic polarization” is coming up more and more. Toxic Polarization exists where “hate speech” or “hate” is directed against the opposing party or opinion holder because of their political beliefs. The most prime and recent example was seen in our country on January 6, 2021, when U.S. citizens stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overthrow the government, the results of an election, and some even seemingly planned to engage in murderous acts. News outlets like USA Today, tend to also couple social media disagreements and bad jokes that allude to the death of a person who holds a particular opinion as qualify as Toxic Polarization. See Kleinfeld, Rachel, and Sobel, Aaron: “7 ideas to reduce political polarization. And save America from itself.” Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/07/23/political-polarization-dangerous-america-heres-how-fight-column/5477711002/ (July 23, 2020).
I’ve read a couple (well more than a couple) articles about political polarization but I really liked the USA Today article (opinion) above. In that same article, the writers put forth seven methods to help to reduce political polarization and especially toxic polarization, from simply holding back on politically fueled dehumanizing jokes to helping others imagine empathy. I recommend giving the USA Today article a read but I’m listing a couple others that I enjoyed below if you really get interested in this issue.
De-Wit, Lee; Van Der Linden, Sander; and Brick, Cameron. “What Are the Solutions to Political Polarization?” Online available at: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_are_the_solutions_to_political_polarization (July 2, 2019).
Continetti, Matthew. “Politics is Not the Answer.” Online Available at: https://www.politico.com/interactives/2019/how-to-fix-politics-in-america/polarization/politics-is-not-the-answer/
Murphy, Kelly. “The Psychology of Polarization And How We Can Overcome Our Prejudices.” Online Available at: https://www.bridgealliance.us/the_psychology_of_polarization_and_how_we_can_overcome_our_prejudices (May 14, 2019).