Hey Americans, remember when politics were boring?
Things would happen. There would be elections. You would get some entertainment out of seeing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert make fun of someone’s blunders, and then you would move on.
People were less like political parrots then. They had real things to say. Personality and character were judged before political affiliation.
Maybe that was just my perspective as a kid who didn’t care about politics. Regardless, I don’t think anyone cared as much as they do now. If you’re like me, then you’re finding all this conflict stressful and hard to watch.
Let’s zoom out and look at where this all comes from, and then I can show you why living in a politically divided country shouldn’t ruin your life:
1. Politically Divided Through Technology
Anyone can have a voice in 2021, and if they’re savvy enough, they can create a following. Technology allows people to spread their thoughts, feelings, and most importantly, their influence.
The blogs we read, the podcasts we listen to, the streams we watch, all act as little outposts away from the rest of the world. These outposts can easily turn into echo chambers. An echo chamber is:
“…an environment where a person only encounters information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own.”
The more echo chambers that exist, the more the potential for conflict exists.
We can’t forget algorithms either. Algorithms present you with recommended content based on what you’ve clicked on in the past. All the information you take in online is influenced by them.
This means that a person sitting next to you on a bus could have a completely different understanding of the world than you do, because of a link they clicked on four years ago.
Tech doesn’t just shape habits. It shapes realities.
2. Politically Divided Through Media
Nonbiased media is almost nonexistent in 2021. With news organizations all vying for your attention, they need to do something that will rile you up and get you to watch. What better way to do that than to offend your values. According to political analyst Ezra Klein:
The old line on local reporting was “If it bleeds, it leads.” For political reporting, the principle is “If it outrages, it leads.”… As such, polarized media doesn’t emphasize commonalities, it weaponizes differences; it doesn’t focus on the best of the other side, it threatens you with the worst.
It’s safe to assume that when hundreds of millions of dollars are involved, your well-being, or maybe the wellbeing of a whole country, won’t be on a media mogul’s top priority list.
As you can see, creating a politically divided culture is the perfect way to reach into people’s hearts and push their buttons.
If the media can offend your values, they can offend your identity. And as long as you’re angry at the neighbor who you think might be the enemy, someone profits.
3. Donald Trump’s Aftermath
To this day, saying this man’s name gives people knee-jerk reactions. It’s either a feeling of intense disgust or deep admiration.
Donald Trump, a reality TV show star, was elected president of the United States. The absurdity of that event punched a hole in American politics, and we still have not recovered.
The media coverage, his personality, and his policies were all so incendiary that few people could resist paying attention. It was four years of stress, anxiety, anger, and plain insanity.
The volatility still lingers. After the election controversy and the events of January 6th, Trump’s legacy carries on. Whether you loved or hated him, you must admit that he made a deep, lasting impact.
4. Politically Divided Through Academia
Something interesting has been occurring in American universities over the past few decades.
It has been shown that the vast majority of college professors have a liberal, left-leaning political bias. This wouldn’t be a problem on its own, but many believe this skew is coloring the material being taught about politicized topics.
In addition, professors with dissenting opinions are being shunned, ignored, and silenced. According to social psychologist Lee Jussim:
Academics are now at risk for being de-platformed, having their papers retracted, and even being fired for expressing ideas that trigger academic outrage mobs. The rise of denunciations and punishment for ideas raises reasonable concerns about what these people will do when they do gain control of institutions, and regarding their effects right now.
This disturbing trend is resulting in a generation of graduates with, let’s say, “predetermined,” ideas about how the world works and what needs to be done to fix it.
At its worst, students become true believers who come out hostile and combative towards anything they don’t deem righteous. University culture is starting to favor correct thinking over critical thinking.
I believe this is making for an uproar of political conflict among peers, parents, and anyone else.
5. Politically Divided Through Losers
A hot political climate gives people without much else in their lives a chance to feel important.
Out of insecurity, or paranoia, or bitterness, they will relish telling you how wrong you are. And then other people can praise them for having the right opinions.
This is especially apparent on social media. Online grandstanding is displaying your beliefs with the intention — not to change someone’s mind or engage in real conversation — but to show the world how moral you are. This could come in the form of a passionate tweet, for example.
Twitter and Facebook are packed with people like this, and the conflict you find on those sites is about as toxic as it gets. Some people of course, just love the chaos and will troll anyone to watch them get mad.
A friend of mine has a theory that people are hungry for meaning nowadays, and that devoting themselves to a political cause and vomiting their beliefs on others gives their lives some significance. There’s truth in this too.
How to Get Above It
We are living in bizarre, turbulent times. No doubt about it. Technology is overwhelming us, and we’re adjusting to a million new ideas a day.
The news will tell you there is a political divide, a racial divide, and a class divide. Chaos is everywhere, and the end is near.
But, as I go about my day, I see decent people living their lives. I’m sure they all have their troubles, but the world doesn’t look like it’s ending to me. The show goes on, and people are doing the best they can.
The vast majority, I believe, are not extremists. Their political opinions are only one aspect of their identities.
And they are the silent majority; they are the people witnessing the political heat without getting caught in it. Most of them have families to feed, art to make, people to love, and things to do. They don’t have time to get lost in nonsense. That’s how it should be.
You should be immersed in your own life, and solving your issues, instead of drowning in politics. Here are some tips:
- Only use social media as much as you have to (Shit, get rid of it if you can).
- Only check the news once a week if you want to be informed.
- Be willing to listen to people and learn from them before you push a belief on them.
- Remember that individuals are so much more than what they believe politically.
We all have opinions and we all like being around like-minded individuals. But we can’t believe we are surrounded by potential enemies either. Just because someone sees the world differently, doesn’t make them evil.
Politicians and pundits are not meant to be worshipped. Our beliefs, and more importantly, our relationships, should not be defined by politics. In my experience, when you treat people like people, and not dehumanized enemies, you tend to bring out the best in them.
Dividing America is what someone wanted, either for profit or political power. Let’s not give them the satisfaction.