By Matthew Grube
America is more divided now than any time in recent history. Both sides seem to be at each other’s throats constantly. Pew Research shows us that 53 percent of Americans now say it is stressful to discuss politics with people they disagree with. This divisiveness is real and can be hostile, with people on opposing sides having fundamentally different mindsets, each unwilling to budge. The middle ground has largely disappeared and neither side wants to lose as the escalation rises. It’s time to take a step back and look at how our nation became so divided and what is to come.
WCHS history teacher Bradley Hicks proposed that we’ve become so divided through the escalation of party politics starting with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. This political polarization is the manifestation of differences emerging in culture and mindsets that has evolved in the United States.
Hicks emphasized how politics is downstream of culture.
“The polarization in politics is the result of our culture, not the opposite. So it’s not that our culture is getting divided because of our politics, but I think the politics are a symptom of how people and their mindset is,” Hicks said.
Hicks also recognizes that previously cherished virtues are now disregarded by our current culture and that it didn’t used to be that way. Traits that the WWII generation had instilled in them but we’ve now lost. Hicks believes that when we go through conflict with each other we don’t have those virtues, which makes us quicker to blame the other side and refuse to work together as Americans.
Hicks went through the virtues that have become devalued, in his opinion.
“Honesty, truth, having integrity when nobody’s looking, working hard just because working hard is the right thing to do, valuing your family, enduring hardship because the end goal is worth it. All those things are values that the Great Generation, which is those that fought in WWII. I think they had that and I think we’ve lost a lot of that,” Hicks said.
As for sensationalist media, oftentimes referred to as “fake news,” according to Hicks, it has been around in America before, but the amount of it and the amount that people consume is certainly new.
We consume more easily accessible information than ever before; never before have people had access to news like this and the dynamic of social media has enabled people to lob insults at each other with no remorse, which could add fuel to the division.
Hicks discussed social media’s impact on the dialogue taking place in the U.S..
“It’s easy to insult somebody when you’re not looking at them. I think it’s kind of the coward’s way of addressing things,” Hicks said.
Justin Brownfield, another history teacher at WCHS, has also has recognized the effects of social media in the polarization.
“It’s adding fuel to the fire. It’s made it easier for extreme views to be perpetuated, and it’s easy to share stuff. One little button,” Brownfield said.
Brownfield claims that both sides are guilty of perpetuating sensationalist journalism, or fake news, and that each side is trying to make the other look bad and themselves look better as a result.
He also claims that in such periods of polarization, or division, there are always grudges on both sides and each side would often make their platform based around undoing the other sides accomplishments.
This was apparent when citizens saw how Trump made his campaign around being anti-Obama, and Hillary made her campaign around being anti-Trump.
Hicks pointed out what he finds different about this period of division compared to others.
“What I think is unique today is that many people have is that America is a bad place and we need to fundamentally change it and I am always curious as to where in the history of the world has been a better place to live,” Hicks said.
As for looking towards the future, Brownfield suggested the next two election cycles could be intense, as a result of the partisan divide showing no signs of stopping.
Brownfield believes the next election will be a “people movement.”