Writer addresses issue of current political polarization, 2016 presidential election

By Alex Pinsk || Layout Assistant

You are a Democrat or you are a Republican. You are liberal or you are conservative. You believe in climate change or you do not believe in climate change. In 2016 our nation is not a healthy mix of people with different ideologies spread equally across the political spectrum. Rather, we live in a polarized nation where we too often hold directly opposing views from one another and cannot respect each other.

Polarization is the intense division of two opposing parties; it is a situation in which two groups have such strong opinions that they are unable and unwilling to understand the opinions of the opposite side or make compromises. While we have seen this phenomenon in different ways throughout history — the north versus the south over the issue of slavery, women versus men over the issue of women’s suffrage — we have reached a point where we cannot no longer avoid scrutinizing the negative effects that this political polarization has had and is having on the United States. The current state of polarization encompasses more than just two disparate groups. It has lead to and is inclusive of increased violence, racism, sexism, riots, and shootings across the nation.

The causes of this intense polarization certainly include media influences, manipulation from the government, and the pure existence of political parties, and while I could talk on about the reasons for this situation, I think my space is best used discussing how political polarization influenced the 2016 presidential election and what we can do about it.

When people are polarized, they tend to associate themselves with people who share their views and values; they often would rather confirm their own opinions than consider those of an opposing group of party. In my experience, many people avoid discussing politics with people who do not share their opinions due to fear of disagreement or of starting an argument. The problem is that people have been forced into a position of polarization due to the government and the positions of certain elected officials or candidates for certain positions. When people are voting for one of two candidates who have completely opposing ideals, they often must choose one or the other.

In my opinion, as a country, we are sick of this polarization, we are sick of being manipulated by the government and of being told we have a voice when too often, we do not. We want change, and we want it fast. Trump does not fit into either polarized category. He is certainly not a democrat, and although he associates himself with the Republican party, he is not the traditional republican candidate with conventional principles. He talks about making tangible changes, about altering the government, about using extremest methods in order to reshape our nation. People are sick of the polarization; they think that if we shake up our country, if we reinvent the American dream, much of this polarization and intense hatred for people of other groups will dwindle. So, they voted for Trump.

Hillary Clinton was a traditional democratic candidate. She believes in women’s rights, in supporting people of low economic standings; she supports gay marriage, and she understands that climate change is not a hoax. She is a politician. She is a lawyer. She served as senator and as secretary of state. She checked the boxes. She was more than qualified to be president. For Donald Trump, we cannot say the same. He has never held a public political office in his life. He is a business man. Many people knew this as they walked to the polls to vote. I think that people understood that Clinton had all the credentials to become president; they understood that understood what she was getting herself into. Yet, the majority did not vote for her. And for all the reasons listed above – because she is qualified, because she is a politician and has had experience, because she is traditional. She was not going to “shake things up” like they thought Donald Trump would. She was not going to be different enough to alter the inner-workings of the government. With our country in this state of immense disaccord and opposition, Hillary Clinton stood little chance against someone so different, so radical, so under-qualified, and yet so appealing to many.

Had Bernie Sanders beaten Clinton in the primaries and was running against Trump, I think he would have won by a landslide. He was also radical, he was different, he was not your conventional democratic candidate. He was not seen as the racist, sexist, bigoted man that Donald Trump appears to be. He is the moderate radical, if you will, that this country and its people were looking for.

In the primaries, the democratic party took a conservative stance. I do not mean conservative in a republican sense, I mean it in a traditional sense. They chose a candidate that was like many that had come before her in her beliefs, in her proposals, in her attitude toward the country. They chose her over Bernie Sanders who was the different, radical choice. The republican party; however, went with the extreme candidate. Instead of supporting a more moderate John Kasich, republicans across the nation thought Donald Trump ought to be the nominee. I am not going to get into why the democrats chose more traditionally, while the republicans did not; however, I think it is an interesting phenomenon.

Essentially, Donald Trump won the presidency because he was running against a customary democratic candidate with a long-established reputation in the political world.

I am not one to argue that polarization is not an issue in the United States. It certainly is, and it certainly has been for a while.

However, I do not think a vote for Hillary Clinton was a vote for polarization. I think a vote for Hillary Clinton was a vote for progression in our country, a vote for female empowerment, a vote against racism, sexism, homophobia. A great majority of the populace, according to polls, wants a unified country. Yes, a unified country arises from decreased polarization. Yes, Hillary Clinton shares many of Barack Obama’s ideals which are democratic and traditionally so. However, electing someone, voting for someone, racist and sexist just for the purpose of decreasing polarization is an ignorant and nearly moronic action to take. And while I understand that people have other reasons for voting for this man, it is unacceptable to use the idea of wanting of less polarization as one of them.

Even if you do not think you voted for Trump for this reason, I challenge you, looking at the definition to rethink your reasoning. Because I suspect that whether directly correlated or not, many people voted for Trump because of the current state of political polarization in the United States.

When voting in this particular election, I believe that it was important to look past political polarization to a certain extent. It is going to take more than a radical president to alter people’s opinions. It is going to take a more unified society which can only arise from a positively influential, progressive president. People need to be voting for the president who will have the most positive influence on the United States — inclusive of the people, the environment, relations with other countries — rather than someone who is appealing because he seems different.

Alas, Donald Trump will be our president because we, the people, elected him to office.

Now, friends, we are going to have to work together harder than ever, we are going to need to fight for unity; we have the responsibility of ensuring our country is not only advancing and forward-thinking but also safe and inclusive.

If our president is not behind us, we must back each other.

First-year Alex Pinsk is a layout assistant. Her email is mpinsk@fandm.edu.

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