America is politically polarized, but polarization isn’t inherently evil. After all, in a democratic system, it’s imperative to have competitive ideologies and clearly drawn-out boundaries. A system where political opponents are locked in a perennial struggle of negation that produces a synthesis of a thesis and an antithesis. America is no different, only that the thread connecting the two ends of the spectrum appears to be thinning out.
Intolerance and distrust are on the rise. Partisans view their political opponents more negatively than ever before in the last four decades. The political discourse is a testimony to these attitudes and why won’t it be? It is dominated by those on the extremes after all. Not only are they voting in higher numbers but also donating more than other groups and are far more vocal on social media. These datasets are constantly cited by the factories of gloom and doom but what falls through the cracks is the data on political independents. More than one-third of Americans identify themselves as political independents and the number has been on the rise. But their voting percentage is the lowest of all political groups and continues to drop. Not only this but political independents are least likely to donate and express their opinion on social media.
Americans are concerned about political polarization and an overwhelming majority blames politicians and the media. But this isn’t a one-way street, it takes two to tango as they say. Any power-greedy politician or a rating-hungry media person is bound to hunt on the extremes of the spectrum. That is where votes, money, and views are the highest. The situation has become a self-perpetuating phenomenon where hate is beneficial, and beneficiaries create hate. America is polarized but those in the center of the spectrum can heal it. The onus is thus on the independents to assert themselves on the political scene and make tolerance and trust great again.
Americans are confused. Although a large majority, across ideological lines, shares common values, a consensus is rarely seen in political discourse over any issue. I have been a witness to several such discussions that turn abusive from the get-go. Even the modus operandi and the vernacular are strikingly similar. It takes almost no time for a conversation to escalate to a level where words like “liar”, “evil”, and “fascist” are exchanged repeatedly. But another common word in such arguments is “freedom”. The side that espouses freedom and liberty on a particular issue is also the one that is accused of subverting those principles when the topic switches. Partisans and Independents alike have serious misconceptions about each other. Every society is ideologically nuanced and complex, but a two-party system is bound to yield binary grouping, at least electorally. It is incumbent upon the thought leaders – intellectuals, academics, writers, and thinkers – to heal society and make intellectual humility and empathy great again.
America must face its demons whether it’s race, class, or ethnicity. It’s time for Americans to address these issues, not through mere rhetoric though. The hangover from a unipolar world must end now. The adhesive of ideological contradiction worked well until the Soviet Union fell and the demon of Islamic fundamentalism didn’t do bad either. But the current project “Sino-Sin” has failed to set the box office on fire, as yet. The American political elite must look inwards and bring people together.
America does not need a third party, but a third voice that is neither “woke” nor “MAGA”. If the previous president can have a dialogue with the “Rocket Man” and the current with the “Pariah Murderer”, an American can surely sit and chat with a fellow American. Time is running out in a fast-changing world, and it may soon get to a point where a cure is beyond reach. Before that happens, America needs to act. Sometimes the only way forward is to turn around and walk backward.
[Photo by Phil Roeder, via Wikimedia Commons]
*Shiraz Gulraiz is an author, freelance writer, and engineer by profession. He holds a Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.