When two groups of children refuse to play together on the playground, we teach them to “play nice” and let go of their petty animosities; it’s a lesson we all learned as we grew up. When two groups of adults refuse to play together in Congress, we call it politics and leave them be.
Not Good Listeners
George Washington warned us about partisan politics. He warned us that two fiercely divided parties could tear the nation apart, but we didn’t listen. We like to divide ourselves into groups, it seems. Men and women, black and white, Democrats and Republicans; we never miss the opportunity to distance ourselves from another group, to draw the line between “us” and “them”. It’s crucial to our sense of belonging.
When this occurs among five-year-olds on the playground, it’s mostly harmless. A few kids may get their feelings hurt, but no lasting damage is done. Besides, that’s just a phase. It’s something we all grow out of, right?
Well… no. The way we divide ourselves into Democrats and Republicans, each group so vehemently opposed to the other, shows that we have carried our penchant for segregation right up into adulthood. It’s laughable that we teach our kids to “play nice” when we aren’t even capable of doing so ourselves. It’s laughable, but it’s also alarming.
In order to keep America running smoothly, we want to select the best politicians for the job. Candidates must campaign for months in order to convince voters that they are honest, intelligent, and capable. They have to be knowledgeable on a variety of issues, and voters will assess each candidate’s knowledge as they determine who they’re going to choose at the polls.
Who We Want
Of course, that’s how it’s supposed to be, but we, as Americans, are busy people. Or maybe we’re just impatient and stubborn. We need an easy way to tell who we want to pick. One word can tell us all we need to know, right? It sounds silly when you say it like that, but it’s true; once we align ourselves with a certain party, Democrat or Republican, we rarely stray from it.
I’m guilty of such behavior. I’ve grown up in a family of liberal Democrats, and many of my parents’ views have become my own. We don’t much care for guns, we support gay rights, and we don’t mind if the government uses our taxpayer dollars to help people on welfare. I know that if there’s an argument between a Democrat and a Republican, I would assume the Democrat was right. It’s just how I’ve been conditioned to think.
Say I listen in on the argument for a bit, and I found out that the Democrat was asserting that the Earth is flat. At that point, I would disagree with them because I know that the Earth is round. Even though it goes against my “party loyalty”, I would have to side with the Republican arguing that the Earth is round because I know that they’re right.
How It Usually Goes
Usually, though, I don’t get to that point. Most of us don’t. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from doing all of my research for my political articles, it’s that it takes a whole lot of time to develop an informed opinion. That’s time a lot of us don’t have or would rather spend doing something else. That’s why we align with a group; we need a shortcut so that we can participate in politics despite not having time to do our homework.
Of course, that’s just my hypothesis, but a few nights ago, out of a 50/50 mixture of curiosity and boredom, I decided to test it. I joined several Republican/Trump supporter groups on Facebook, and then I joined several Democrat/Hillary supporter groups. For my experiment, I decided to post a link to The Politics of Protecting Americans, and see how each group reacted.
Running a Test
I did my best to blend in with each group while still asking them to read my post. For the Trump group, I mentioned how politicians were doing nothing to protect us from the terrorist threat, and then suggested that the answer was right there in my article. For the Hillary supporters, I did mention that my article was anti-Trump in order to catch their attention. The groups were of fairly similar size, and I think that my posts, while different, would have done a similar job in attracting each audience to the article. Once I finished my posts, I watched and waited to see what the responses would be.
The results surprised me. As expected, I got a few likes from the Democratic groups, along with a few comments of “Good research” or “Well done!”, so I can assume that at least a few of them read my article. What shocked me was the reaction I got from the Trump supporter groups. I received significantly more likes from that crowd, as well as an enthusiastic comment from a man whose grandmother “carries a 9 and isn’t afraid to pop a cap in someone’s ass!” Charming. Here’s some screenshots of my posts.
How on Earth could my extremely anti-Trump article do so well in a Trump supporters Facebook group? There are a few possibilities. Maybe all of them read it, agreed with me, and liked my post because they decided to renounce Trump forever. Maybe they read the article, disagreed with it, but liked my post anyway because they respected the fact that I had worked hard on it. However, since I received absolutely no negative feedback despite the anti-Trump tone of my article, the most likely possibility is that since I was in a Republican Facebook group complaining about terrorism with an article that had a gun as the featured image, those people assumed that I was a like-minded Republican and gave my post their stamp of approval without a second thought. I can’t say I blame them, I know I would probably do the same if I saw something posted in a group of liberals.
A few dozen Facebook likes don’t mean much, but they certainly seem to reflect a trend that is plaguing America. We aren’t doing our homework. Before I started doing research to write my political articles, most of my knowledge on politics came from snippets I saw on the news and posts I saw on Twitter. Those aren’t the most reputable sources.
Now that I know better, I’ve been going to all sorts of websites, even conservative ones, to get the facts. Doing more research has shown me that it’s foolish to just side with Republicans or Democrats on any issue, and it’s equally foolish to select a presidential candidate solely based on their political affiliations. I’m still a Democrat, but there are some things I don’t agree with them on. I’m not a 100% Hillary supporter; there is plenty of controversy surrounding her actions, but given that almost everything Donald Trump says seems to spark controversy (usually due to sexist, racist, or generally disrespectful overtones), I would still choose to support Hillary.
A Nation Divided…
These party divisions affect the general public, but they have a far more profound impact on our House of Representatives and the Senate. Congress’s handling of the gun control debate provides a prime example. Almost everyone in that room had their minds made up before they had even left their homes that morning. Republicans were going to oppose gun control because that’s what Republicans do, and Democrats were going to push for gun legislation because that’s what Democrats do. Sure, they all had their individual reasons for doing so, but party loyalty was influencing their decision-making from the start.
The fierce rivalry between Democrats and Republicans demonstrates a psychological concept know as group polarization. When you put a group of like-minded people in a room together, their opinions become more extreme as a result of exposure to similar attitudes. If you put a bunch of people who love chocolate in a room together so they can talk about how much they love chocolate, they will leave that room with an even stronger passion, and they will have a harder time understanding how anyone could dislike chocolate. Putting a group of people who all hate chocolate in a room together would have the opposite effect; their aversion to chocolate would increase, and they would be even more unable to understand how anyone could eat a Hershey’s bar.
In Congress, group polarization has created a legislative traffic jam. In the presidential election, group polarization has led to some of the worst political mud-slinging in history. In both cases, the divide between Democrats and Republicans has led to actions that are downright childish.
Trump has shown himself to be a big fan of name calling (as evidenced by his Twitter account and his ownership of lyingcrookedhillary.com), and he also seems to enjoy talking over those who oppose him (as evidence by almost all of his presidential debates and news interviews). Oh, and let’s not forget the times that he blamed Megyn Kelly’s questions on her menstrual cycle, or the time that he made fun of a disabled reporter, and let’s especially not forget the time that he felt the need to defend the size of both his hands and his penis to the nation.
Of course, maybe that’s just Trump being Trump, so let’s look at Congress instead. When handling the recent debates over gun laws, the refusal of both parties to compromise and pass any sort of gun control legislation led to political gridlock. Democrats and Republicans alike submitted proposals to the Senate, but each bill failed to get the required sixty votes due to Senators continuing to vote along party lines. Democrats tried a filibuster, then a sit-in, but nothing worked. Party loyalty was more important than change, more important than our safety.
I can’t place all of the blame on the politicians. Their votes are meant to reflect the beliefs of their constituents, so if we want politics to change, we have to change it from the ground up. Just like the children on the playground, we have to learn to look past our differences and find a solution that makes us all happy. We are men and women, black and white, Democrats and Republicans, but above all of that, we are human. Shouldn’t that be where our loyalties lie?