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Fiona Tan: The Divided-States of America

Written by Fiona Tan
Edited by Bhromor Rahman

In a time when the country needs a sense of unity, a presidential election comes to divide it. American Republicans and Democrats alike are undergoing a polarization that has reached a boiling point with drastic consequences. 

For some context, political polarization is the vast and growing gap between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats – and a defining feature of American politics today.

Two distinct Americas
The bipartisan system that has existed in America for centuries has ripped the population in two camps; polarization continues to increase as the gap between liberals and conservatives gets larger and larger. A research conducted by Pew has even found that the citizens from opposing parties not only dislike each other, they have become afraid and angry of the other side. Polarization being at its peak, politics have become more personal compared to way back when it was mainly a matter of different ideologies. It now leads to collateral damage in almost every aspect of american life. Political affiliation has predefined lifestyles on both sides of the aisle. It’s as though people are from two completely different worlds. In fact, an individual’s personal choices and characteristics are seen as expressing political views: Popey’s or Chick-fil-A? Honda or pickup truck? MSNBC or FOX News? Supporting different companies that have distinct political positions is also an example of an action of inadvertent support of republican or democrat. 

In a world where everything has turned political, a middle ground for both parties has become a very small yard. This is how it is now, with ideological purity being important on both sides, there is no space for compromise. 

The political and the personal
In the contemporary era, there is an endless list of concerns that people need to worry about, especially with 2020 single handedly delivering a hard-hitting blow.  Hence, people are taking these issues at a personal level. What you believe is best for the country reflects on who you are as a person; your identity. It is hard for people from different parties to connect, because they are tied to their identity, especially extremist partisans. It is hard to separate the political from the personal, which affects relationships and communication, and leads to close mindedness on others with unfamiliar views from our own.

Is there hope?
In 2019, Stanford university brought together over 500 people, half democrats and half republicans, in a Texas resort for a few days. This social experiment’s goal was to test out their theory on a possible resolution to diminish political hostility, which is that if you put Americans with different perspectives together, there’s a possibility of understanding and compassion. Researchers behind this project hypothesised that the differences between democrats and republicans are not as significant as people think, that it was just a matter of different life experiences. During their stay in Texas, the people discussed political topics, notably immigration and health care. As both sides expressed their opinions, they both got to see the others perspectives, stories and ideas. An example of many, most Republicans thereafter became less openly aggressive on the topic of immigration after hearing stories of the immigrants staying at the resort with them, and Democrats’ opinions had slightly altered when speaking of minimum wage and taxes. 

What does this experiment tell us? Maybe, just maybe, if people can come together, sit down and have a proper conversation with one another, the clash between the parties wouldn’t be as large-scale as it is. This is easier said than done. Irreparable damage has been carried out, so it will take a lot more to unify the nation. But a one on one conversation between partisans without ad hominem attacks can definitely have a strong impact in the way politics are discussed between them.  As much as you want to insult someone who disagrees with you, it leads to nowhereland.  

What I think of all this
Politics is a dangerous sport. Probably the most dangerous one out there, because any move pulled leads to someone (or a group) getting hurt; it’s a zero-sum game in many ways and not in others. Nonetheless it is an inherent part of each of our daily lives, because it concerns everyone, though some more than others. Observing the U.S tearing itself apart from a non-american standpoint, it looks as though the conflict is never ending and has become rooted in american society. However, the clash in America is a necessary step towards reunification, because peace will never be reached if there is no resolution to the culture war, no matter how big or small. Even if it takes multiple decades, all sides must reach an understanding at some point or watch their country burn before their eyes.

I think that many people, including myself, are tired of the injustices, the discrimation, the favoritism, and the vitriol that has poisoned a large portion of the population. An end to those is the motive of our fight. But taking a stance fuels the fire of those who support opposing ideologies, which creates anger on the other side. It’s a vicious cycle;  the reason behind this division. There is no room for communication, making it hard for the country to move forward.

Once a paper is ripped in half, it can never be put back together. The same thing will happen to the United-States if it continues on this route. This longlasting division has unavoidable ramifications, be it good or bad. I don’t know what is going to happen in these following years, or even the next few weeks. It seems that the two possible outcomes are both at the same level of plausibility at this point. If you’re an American reading this, I’m not here to tell you who to vote for; that’s your choice to make, but I do think there are very good reasons for everyone, not only Americans, to be anxious and fearful of the election results, for whichever outcome it may be, whether the world’s quasi-hegemonic superpower returns to neoliberal normalcy or sticks with Trumpian populism, were either even any good to begin with?

Editor’s note: As a Canadian, I couldn’t care less about who wins; both parties are establishment bootlickers in my view. But over the last few years, I have to admit American politics have become entertaining at least thanks to Donald Trump being the most hilarious President the country has ever had in more ways than one. I will be watching the election with some friends tonight at 8PM, popcorn in hand of course, and I suggest you tune in too…for the memes.

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