The End: Political Polarization and its Effects on the People

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Justin Doucette, Copy Editor

Hatred. Spite. Divide. 

In a world of diverse needs, wants, and desires, it is impossible to cater to every individual; The implementation of public policy often renders numerous people at a loss due to a lack of interest in the “other side’s” point of view.

Polarization has “hit the ceiling” in America, where Democrats and Republicans alike are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the Utopia each side has nurtured since the founding of this decaying nation.

The 2022 General Election is underway, and Americans across the country are getting involved by displaying lawn signs, signing petitions, and engaging in local political groups on social media. 

The only issue is the growing divide between parties; as the gap increases, it will become increasingly difficult to reach a compromise within the government, leaving millions of Americans across the map unrepresented and unheard, and we all remember what occurred the last time that happened.


Historical Context of Division


Division is nothing new to American politics, as the nation was ironically founded due to political intolerance and tyranny from the English Monarch.

The American Revolution was sparked by a nuanced philosophical, and political ideology, which stemmed from individuality and liberty. Colonists and Loyalists who once shared the motivation to proceed upward in society, away from the elite system in Britain, suddenly scorned one another on the streets, with Patriots tarring those defending the Crown and Loyalists firing back… literally.

A new divide was created shortly thereafter, as was briefly highlighted in the Broadway show Hamilton, between those who supported the Constitution (Federalists), and those who did not (Anti-Federalists). The first true separation of parties seen in America set a precedent for future generations that factions were an essential part of American democracy, despite what the framers intended.

A major point of contention for the Anti-Federalists was the Bill of Rights, or a lack thereof, within the Constitution. Positively, a compromise was made prior to the ratification of the Constitution that a set of Amendments would be added to insure the rights of citizens.

Barely a generation later, families were turned against one another in the deadliest war on American soil, The Civil War, where the desire to either keep or destroy the system of slavery wiped out bloodlines. While there was little compromise and much fighting within this divide, settlements were made after the Civil War, as well as in a period known as Reconstruction, to ensure newly-freed African Americans held rights.

The divide between North and South remained prominent, where southern Democrats later regained political power and stripped African Americans of their newly-gained rights and liberties, such as home ownership and voting, which lasted almost a century. 

Fast forwarding, the Civil Rights Movement was a time in history where, for the first time since Reconstruction, African Americans were ensured the right to simply exist as equals to all other White American citizens. 

Many people were infuriated by the inclusion of Black Americans into the American system via the protection of basic rights outlined in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which caused deadly riots, such as Bloody Sunday, and other forms of violence that widened sectional gaps. 

More recently, the Election of 2020 sent shockwaves throughout the nation, with conservatives screaming a “stolen election” and liberals celebrating the end of an American “reign of terror.” Many believe the polarization depicted today, which has affected how parties would normally pass power peacefully from one to another, truly began with the Obama Administration.

Regardless of who “started it,” polarization is at an all-time high, and many times involves microaggressions or blatant violence in the everyday lives of citizens, which, in turn, directly affects how Americans interact with one another.


How that Affects Americans Today


In a previous world where one’s vote depended on who did the job better, and Americans simply avoided political conversation at the Thanksgiving table, a new survey claims that only 20% of college sophomores cannot see themselves “rooming with someone who voted differently than they did in the 2020 presidential election.”

This divide continues as the General Election creeps closer, with Americans feeding into prejudices and misinformation-based bias pushed by the Media.

The Media initiates unhelpful back-and-forth nagging, often fueled by “extreme bias,” as put by Zoe Wegrzyn, a senior at Pentucket. “Of course, parties are going to be divided by views,” she explains, “but it has to cross a line at some point with misinformation.”

It is impossible to live in a society where each individual holds the same views, as every person lives a diversified life that shapes how (s)he lives and what policies (s)he votes for. However, the Media plays on contrasting, sometimes falsified, points made by each side, initiating conflict by pinning voters against one another.

Keith Sherman, head of the history department at Pentucket High School, mentions that “politics can be very personal and emotional for people. We live in a nation of convictions- people hold deep beliefs. That is not a bad thing but it can make some [people] uncomfortable.”

Politics being emotionally charged for Americans creates a situation for policymakers and communities alike, meaning fewer people are willing to compromise, and more neighbors are less likely to compromise in local elections as well. 

Not surprisingly due to the political state of our Nation, Cayler Ellingson, 18, was “mowed down” and subsequently murdered by Shannon Brandt, 41, for allegedly “threatening him” (making him feel uncomfortable) and being an open conservative. It was found that Ellingson was run over while calling his mother to report that “someone was after him.”

While quiet discomfort and violent prejudice are two separate things, they are each fueled by a closed-minded headspace, often resulting in falsely stereotyping political affiliations.

An anonymous Pentucket student confirms that it is difficult to remain friends with people who possess “totally extreme” views, that they do not appreciate ideas being shoved down their throat when, in a friendship, politics “should be separate.”

Another anonymous student from Pentucket confirms that “it may be hard to get along” with friends if they become open about their political views.

Not choosing to be friends with someone according to their political beliefs is one thing, but engaging in violence based on one’s understanding of politics is another can of worms that Americans are, terrifyingly, more frequently opening.


What Pentucket is Saying


As time progresses, it becomes increasingly evident that “people can’t seem to compromise,” an anonymous Pentucket student explains. “If [political parties] don’t start working together,” the student stresses, the outcome will “not be good.”

Although, how is compromise possible if both sides are completely unwilling to cooperate? Not just members of Congress, but citizens in their own respects dismiss views divergent from their own. 

Cora Ducolon, an English teacher at Pentucket, is concerned that political polarization in America is negatively affecting the way politicians lobby for support, saying that they are “getting more extreme in order to get votes,” and that “moderates aren’t making it.”

Moderate politicians are essential to compromise in democracy because they side with the ideologies of candidates opposed to partisan affiliation, which is concerning for the future as voters move further away from the “center” and toward extremism.

Looking closer to home, Massachusetts votes primarily Democrat in the presidential elections, although it leans toward conservative moderates on more local terms, which shows a balance of power that not only enables party compromise but decreases the chances of a policy gridlock since all voices are accounted for in a mindful sense.

The issue of polarization is not helped by the media heavily blasting the “negative attributes of each [political] side,” Yvette Estevez, senior at Pentucket High School, comments. “Sometimes, the whole situation is not explained, so people remain misinformed,” which remains a problem as the gap between Americans widens. 

Zoe Wegrzyn stands with Estevez, agreeing that “there is no doubt that if we continue the way we are, the gap between societal opinions will diverge even more.”


Should People Be Educated on Civics? How Does Education Impact Politics and Policy?


While wealth and political participation have been long correlated, the truth is that education influences people to get involved in politics, as “individuals acquire this sense of duty” when provided the opportunity to understand the fundamentals of government and civics.

When studying developed democracies, Nigeria specifically, it becomes obvious that “education increases [voter] turnout” as well as “other forms of civic and political engagement.” 

While lobbying for universal democracy is important, the understanding of civic engagement begins at home; as Mr. Sherman puts it, education “helps people make thoughtful decisions,” which will benefit their immediate and national communities. 

“When you don’t know things,” Estevez agrees, “you can make misinformed, dangerous decisions” that will negatively impact the way the government runs and how people live. 

It is true that “education directly contributes back to the way [Americans] live in this country,” Wegrzyn comments. The first step in becoming politically active and participating in the policymaking process is by increasing one’s understanding of government fundamentals, along with the history of the country in which one resides, as it will enhance the ability to make informed decisions based on past and current events and lessen the chance of passive engagement. 

As Ms. Ducolon says, education “encourages students to be aware of how the government works,” and she hypothesizes that education will “directly change what candidates are voted for.”

Mark Dziedziak, a world history teacher at Pentucket, believes that “education is key” when it comes to participating in government processes and fostering civic virtues. “People need to see each other as human beings,” he continues, to look through “different perspectives.”

It is a concern for many, acknowledges Ms. Ducolon, that “most [educators] tend to be democrats” around Massachusetts, which may be a conflict of interest for many, where education may turn to political activism. However, she believes that political affiliation has little to do with teaching a civics class and more to do with realizing your bias and even “playing the devil’s advocate” to ensure both sides are equally portrayed on unbiased platforms.

When one has a basic understanding of civics, (s)he immediately is more likely to practice political tolerance, which directly impacts government policy by enabling both voters and policymakers to work together and come up with solutions to benefit everyone.


The Importance of Political Tolerance and Empathy


Mr. Dziedziak believes that to improve political empathy, one must “understand where [the other side] is coming from,” and not be afraid to “engage in a conversation,” as speculation does little to foster tolerance and more to foster prejudices.

“Political tolerance is so important,” Wegrzyn continues, “it is what keeps American democracy’s wheels turning. It is what encourages all groups to have effective debate and stand for what they believe in without shame”

Ms. Ducolon stresses the importance of communication, saying that “[Americans] need to have conversations and work together and find an intelligent middle ground.” She comments on how policymakers are “less productive” as disagreement ends more frequently in stalemate than compromise. 

It is a concern for many, including Ms. Ducolon, that the court system has been increasingly politically motivated rather than fulfilling its job of interpreting the Constitution. She praises Justice Roberts, saying his ability to consider both sides of a case regardless of his Republican affiliation is “intelligent,” and that more people should be open-minded when it comes to political debate. 

The ability to understand and acknowledge every side of politics and take the time to formulate a policy with the least “losers” is something that should be strived toward in the United States government. Until we have a majority of compromisers, however, we will continue to end in a “policy gridlock.”


Looking to the Future


Most people, like Mr. Dziedziak, try to steer away from thinking of the future. However, it is impossible to completely ignore the lingering anxiety of political polarization. “People will move further and further into their own bubbles,” Mr. Dziedziak concludes, but stresses the importance of open-minded discussion in hopes that “the best ideas” will “emerge as the consensus.”

Mr. Sherman would “like to see more people turn out to vote,” as well as more people getting involved in politics, both locally and nationally. “More people,” he says, [need to] take a stand, no matter what side.” 

“The only way we can fix the rut we are in now is to come to a mutual understanding,” Wegrzyn comments. 

Ms. Ducolon cannot help but think the future beholds a “civil war,” though as a last resort-type situation. Nonetheless, the idea of a bloody battle between neighbors and families is terrifying.

The world was warned most blatantly by George Orwell in his infamous novel, 1984, of the dangers of submission to political tyranny and staying in the “unknown” of political issues. 

The government depicted in 1984 makes it impossible for its citizens to participate in open-minded discussions on politics, further enabling the People to be content in their submission to the oppressive government: is this where America is headed?

If the spread of disinformation and corruption continues, then the divide of factions will grow larger and more distant until reparation becomes impossible. There are numerous forums and websites online detailing reasons why 1984 may be coming true, relating to the “doublethink,” “Newspeak,” and rewriting of history, among other details from within Orwell’s novel. 

While those are simply theories, it makes one wonder where our world is headed given the advancing polarization of our current nation. 

Division in America makes it easy to see some form of truth in alternate realities depicted in dystopian novels and makes it increasingly difficult to separate a person from his or her political philosophy; We live in a time where political prejudice rules our everyday lives. That being said, there are ways to prevent whatever theoretical society lies ahead of us. One piece of advice is from Mr. Dziedziak, who stresses that people must push their preconceived notions aside and work together, as “we are all human beings first.”