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The Divided State of Americans
“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” – John Adams
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." – Abraham Lincoln
When Ignorance is No Longer Bliss—
Politics is boring, or at least until recently. Politics was a bunch of politicians droning on about topics I couldn’t follow because they talked in circles or threw jargon around I didn’t understand. Frankly, the government is rarely a topic of interest until an election time, a scandal or a domestic disaster; otherwise, it’s a dull subject for those of us who don’t connect the dots and understand the implications of their actions or inactions on our daily lives.
I assumed there were safeguards in place that would prevent anything too outrageous from happening in our government because of the checks and balances system.
I assumed that this epidemic of political party fanaticism would eventually simmer down.
And I assumed that our system was not running as efficiently as the government should be functioning on some level.
If not anything else, I learned not to make any assumptions in the future, and that no matter however convoluted a thing may be, like American government’s operating system, the steps to resolve a problem remain the same:
1. Identify the problem
2. Identify factors that are creating the problem
3. Identify and implement tentative solutions to the problem
Politician party member appointed government officials’ recent public behaviors and work performance have proven themselves to be entertainers with self-serving agendas rather than the civil servants tasked with addressing the needs of society. We, the public, the people, consequently become a ringside audience to a boxing match between the Democrats and Republicans. The benefit of the dirty political match is that more people have been more attuned to the government’s operations; however, we are paying more attention to the spectacle and have become fanatical about supporting and defending a fighter– a political party- and attacking the rival team. Meanwhile, societal problems not only go unresolved, but increase, and gain potential to evolve into a more complicated issue, while the two dominant parties blatantly engage in behaviors and actions that have reached new partisan heights and are tearing apart our country.
A change - a reform is needed to end the in house bickering and reinstate an effective and efficient government. History has repeatedly demonstrated that resolving large-scale government-related issues requires unification of the people; a significant number of the population needs to be willing to band together to force a change for a better quality of life. However, a united front of the required magnitude seems only to happen when injustices are at their most egregious, rendering people unable to ignore the problem.
I am truly worried about time’s answer to the question: Will we be able to demand a reform of a system that works toward creating a better quality of life for all Americans or will the damages go beyond repair before we can unite and reform our system to preserve our founding fathers' legacy- The United States of America- and become a divided country?
Identify the problem:
Extreme Powerhouse Political Parties Stunt Country’s Health and Threaten to End United States of America Life
Dirty Politics Not Surviving, but Thriving-
Any competitive action with high stakes will test a competitor's morals and ethical principles for the sake of winning - it’s human nature. The taste of power can taint even the most puritan of palates, and if the temptation to gain power doesn’t bend a candidate’s ethical character, the temptation to make sure that power is not given to whomever he or she believes to be a poor leader will bend, if not break, his or her moral compass. The public has observed the height of the bend in political integrity practice in negatively charged attacks between the parties via media – ads, posts, tweets, speeches, etc. Once the negative campaigning becomes unnecessarily repetitive, irrelevant, information manipulated or taken out of context to damage the opposing party’s or party member’s reputation, it is dirty politics. During presidential election years, the practice of dirty politics significantly increases and attacks are made on both the political party and its nominated candidate. Any and every aspect of a running candidate’s life, no matter how personal or irrelevant to the political position he or she is campaigning to fulfill, is subjected to exploitation by the opposing political runner and/or the opposing political party.
Dirty campaigning has existed since the first civilized hierarchy of power. Rhetoric is everywhere in politics, but when the rhetoric promotes lies, personal attacks, name-calling, and bandwagons, it brings out the worst in people and makes both the political and public environment toxic. Dirty political campaigns and strategy are nothing new, and even our beloved founding fathers pulled more than a few underhanded tricks in their time. Thomas Jefferson was the candidate for the Democratic-Republicans in the 1800 election; Jefferson told his supporter, James Callender, to print nasty attacks on John Adams. The attacks stated that Adams would go to war with France and that he had a “hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman” (Smith, 2014). Callender’s smear on Adams’s character was sexist and illogical; a hermaphrodite has both female and male sex organs. Thus, the inference should have meant that Adams would have both gender stereotype qualities. Regardless of the inaccurate metaphor, the public understood the character burn, and it served its purpose: damaging Adams’s reputation and, ultimately, aiding Jefferson in winning the election. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was running for president. Foes in the election, Stephen Douglas’ backers at the Charleston Mercury newspaper, even called Lincoln a “horrid-looking wretch” who was “sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper, and the nightman” (Kane, 2015). Horse swapper would appear to be a variant of horse trader – a more modern term is a used car salesman; a nutmeg dealer is possibly related to the supposed practice that some Yankee peddlers of selling fake nutmeg either by adding sawdust to the spice or by carving the nutmeg seed itself out of wood– a modern conman and a nightman is the term for a person who empties toilets by night – a modern janitor. The insinuation by newspapers unflattering physical appearance of Lincoln was that if Lincoln did not look like a proper politician, and if he did not physically appear to be a good leader, he could not be a good leader. Dirty politics are a problem because when politicians or the media resort to mudslinging, insults or opinionated accusations to damage someone’s credibility, it shows immaturity and creates a defensiveness between the candidates that often detracts meaningful discussions about current topics affecting the people. Negative political campaigning becomes an indirect retroactive element to our progress in society. Personal attack ads make it more difficult for voters to identify who has the most potential as the best leader for our nation. It is more entertaining, thus easier, to become caught up in the gossip, make judgments on lesser or overplayed candidate’s past mistakes instead of gathering as much useful information that would assist voters to elect the best candidate. The recent increase of practicing dirty politics has created more than just concerns for voters, it has created ill will between the two parties to harmful heights. Current research shows we are continuing to deepen the ravine between Democrats and Republicans: Political Scientists Mr. Iyengar and Sean J. Westwood studied the cause and the effect of party prejudice and stated, “We have all of these [sic] data which converge on the bottom-line conclusion that party is the No. 1 split in contemporary American society,” (Badger & Chokshi, 2017). Political scientists expect that attack ads, which have grown in number and nastiness, play a role in political party divide. The growth of negative attacks through advertising is very high. “The highest was in 2012, at around 90% of advertisements. It leveled off to 75% in the 2016 election. The lowest percentage was in 1960, around 10%. Since then, politics have been dominated by negativity” (Mandelaro, 2016). The nasty campaigns have voters electing the lesser of the two evils. Dirty politics have cornered voters into casting a vote for a leader who will create the least amount of damage to the country instead of a leader that will create the most positive changes for the country.
Dirty politics has become cancerous for voters and candidates alike; and the fight between political parties has seeped into the public. Like a virus, the extreme political views spread and corrupt reason and rational discussion; the need for being right makes repeating and spreading nasty ads more than tempting by and among citizens. Dirty, extreme politics has, does, and will always have a negative impact in the government and the public.
United We Divide:
As the battle between the parties continues to flood into the American public mentality, the people become provoked to take an extreme position. Partisanship tends to be the fuel that produces extreme factions. When people become extreme, it is unlikely they will reach out to the other side and find a compromise. And when the public leans toward the extreme they will lose contact with common sense. When someone is partisan, it means that the person is a staunch supporter of his or her party’s policies and is unwilling to compromise by being intolerant.
If a fact contradicts a person’s partisan belief, then that person would most likely not accept it. Partisanship is like a shield around the person, not letting in morals, facts, or moderation. A strong belief will motivate justification to prove the opinion is valid, even if all evidence points to the contrary. It increases the chance of voters promoting more negatively charged political campaign rhetoric in an effort to gain political party support. We are enduring a system that has two political parties competing with one another that, in turn, has sparked and fueled the division among the people. This nation is in disunity, “...a 2016 November Gallup poll showed 77 percent of Americans see the country as divided, a record-high” (Jones, 2016).
The possibility of a compromise or truce between the parties and their followers is even less likely because people hold negative judgments from the opposing political party members. A part of the problem is that Americans are less likely to have the kind of interpersonal contact across party lines that can lessen "harsh beliefs about each other. Neighborhoods, workplaces, households and even online dating lives have become politically homogeneous. Voters are less likely today to have neighbors who belong to another party than they were a half-century ago" (Badger & Chokshi, 2017). It seems that nuptials among the public are also significantly affected by politics; studies are showing that members of opposing political parties has become a dating deal breaker.
Bipartisan marriages are going in freefall. Political civility is at an all-time low. Back in 1960, just 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said that they would be unhappy if a son or daughter married someone from the other party. In a YouGov survey from 2008 that posed a similar question, 27 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats said they’d be “somewhat” or “very upset” by that aspect; by 2010, responses to that question jumped to half of Republicans and a third of Democrats. (Badger & Chokshi, 2017)
Extremism can, and often does, block common sense, prompt incivility, and fuel immorality. Like a virus, the extreme political views spread and corrupt reason and rational discussion; the need for being right makes repeating and spreading nasty ads more than tempting.
Identify factors that are creating the problem:
Partisanship expands from the politicians to people
Powering the Wheel and Drinking from Poisoned Wells—
Pointing fingers for who is at fault seems to be the government’s motto so far, and if we're honest, we are all at fault. All of us—the politicians, news and social media, American voters, even the entertainment industry are all at fault for contributing to our national division to some degree, regardless of how small the contribution may have been to this mess.
• The Politicians:
For the people who like to see negative attacks, partisanship can increase, since candidates who are the targets of such ads are weakened if they don’t counter-attack. This sort of judgment by voters drives candidates to run negative commercials. Even candidates who would like to run wholly positive campaigns are led to attack to protect themselves from the airborne assault from the opposing side (Ansolabehere & Iyengar, 1997). And the rise of partisan media has intensified the rhetoric of campaigns, evidence of our worst stereotypes about the opposing party. The stereotypes can be nasty through personal attacks ads; there are many examples of negative campaigns. Examples can be misleading or false advertising, mudslinging, bias, etc. (Badger & Chokshi, 2017).
Partisanship is an extreme, emotional allegiance to one political party. When many of our congressmen and politicians are partisan, they increase the gridlock – creating roadblocks for bills, legislation, laws or any progress for the country because they make their decisions with their political party loyalty priority, rather than as rational appointed public officials.
As a people, we are at fault, too, because we give partisan politicians more attention than we do moderate politicians. Partisanship tends to provoke candidates to use a false equivalence, a logical fallacy- "... a false statement that weakens an argument by distorting an issue, drawing false conclusions, misusing evidence, or misusing language." (Kemper, et al.,2015). A typical recent political false equivalency example is Hillary Clinton’s explanation about her personal and State Department e-mail accounts vulnerability. She claimed that she “used multiple devices, like an iPad, to read and send e-mail,” even though she’d said she “preferred” to read them all on a single device, her iPad. The problem is that the iPad didn’t even exist when Clinton set up her e-mail account. The device was not the causing factor to Clinton’s email hack; the hacker was able to infiltrate her email because Clinton’s personal email account was set up through an unsecured public provider, i.e., Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, etc.; however, Clinton was trying to introduce irrelevant information in hopes of establishing herself as a cyber victim rather than a potential world leader who is careless with information that could endanger national security (Alterman, 2016).
The shocking behavior of our current administration is unbelievable and could easily be mistaken for a satirical television. Sadly, the individuals holding top administration offices in 2017 are not entertainers, but Americans’ appointed leaders. Our elective government officials lack a sense of professionalism and have traded integrity for immaturity, and have displayed behaviors like that of bratty, name-calling, lying, bullying, uncontrolled children: “he tweeted this; she lied about that; they hacked into this; he hired them to hack into that; it’s their fault it failed; I told you it would fail.” Sadly, evidence shows that people are entertained by this debase behavior and are tuning in to see the next jaw-dropping, country embarrassing, foolishness that will happen next —the running water; people who watch, post on social media or talk about negative politics; powers the wheel to turn; negative politics to continue.
• News and Social Media:
The media’s role is to state the facts that political candidates may not be, probably not, telling the public. If a Republican says we need to spend more on the military and the Democrat says we are spending too much, the media need to fill in the context on the matter. Are we spending too much on our military? What are we spending on defense? Is cutting back beneficial? The answers to these questions must be supported by facts as well as be provided with context to help the American public support the best option for the country. Of course, this goes for politicians themselves too. Both parties use the traditional media to get some advantage, allowing each side to make its case over issues and matters of ideology. The problem is when politicians blatantly lie through television to attempt to get their point across, some people fall into the trap of believing it. In that case, the media’s job is not to be balanced politically; it is to inform the citizens of the lies and false information (Willies, 2013). The integrity of news broadcast organizations is understandably a difficult quality to remain intact since an audience is required for any news organization to stay alive. Broadcasted viewer ratings can, has, does, and will influence the news content delivered to the public. Any topic that results in high ratings often provoke media to be repetitive or provide unnecessary depth about the subject to keep public interest despite actual crucial new information that could and should be reported. Tomi Lahren, a commentator usually on Fox News:
admitted that the network’s relentless coverage of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server is a response to the rest of the media’s coverage of the Donald Trump campaign’s Russia scandal. “How about we make a deal. How about when the mainstream media stops covering Russia day in and day out, maybe we can drop the Hillary email scandal,” she offered on Sean Hannity’s show. “But until then, I think I’m going to stay on it.” (Mazza, 2017)
The news anchor indirectly admits Fox News is a partisan news outlet, that places ratings above journalistic integrity - feeding the viewers information that is beneficial to the party they tend to support. Meanwhile, groundbreaking news stories is either given minimal coverage or altogether neglected from corporate/partisan news reports. This corporation’s unethical journalism is, without question, an injustice; however, it’s the massive number of viewers that Fox News retains that makes this an abhorrent transgression. As of 2017, Fox News:
...finish far and above it’s [sic] competition...Fox News averaged 1.72 million total day viewers, with 359,000 of those falling in the key adults 25-54 demo. CNN finished second with 826,000 total day viewers and 266,000 viewers in the demo. MSNBC came in third with 781,000 total day viewers and 185,000 viewers in the demo. Yet despite finishing third, MSNBC definitely has reason to celebrate. The network grew its viewership by 55 percent in total day viewers and 40 percent in the key demo compared. (Otterson, 2017)
• The American Public:
Partisan politicians tend to gain more attention. A Pew research study showed that more Facebook followers tend to follow the most ideological, most partisan politicians than moderates. The public makes a demand to watch the political antics, allegations, and arguments - and the news and the social media supplies that demand. Fox News, CNN, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and much other news and social media platforms are rich with negative politics.
Extreme policies and rude behaviors are recipes for entertainment. The only silver lining is that more people are paying attention to the government than the public had been in years past, but that’s like saying everyone is paying attention in school because the building is on fire. The bottom line is that if polls show that more people tend to watch, write, read, and talk about the negative portrayals, betrayals, and overall bad behaviors of American politicians, the news will cover what the viewers are going to tune in to watch. The news is a business that needs viewers to stay in business, and public political false equivalency does boost the ratings. Big Think - a web portal that features interviews, multimedia presentations, and roundtable discussions with progressive speakers from a range of fields - managing editor, Jason Gots, published an anxious piece on political radicals on Facebook and the ways social media has altered our political rhetoric. The post noted that the spread of negative politics is easier because of people’s far more brazen virtual presence with a far larger audience than ever before due to social media. A person can simply post a comment, video, meme, etc. to however many people he or she may have following his or her social media account. Opinions can be expressed through text or picture to mass viewers without the intimidation of having to be physically present. People find it easier to become more bold and judgmental in the social media world than the physical world. Got, in a published controversial reprimanding letter to his friend, states, "There's this disconnect between your Facebook voice (always out for blood) and your in-person voice on those rare occasions when we meet (warm, funny, kind) ...”(Gots, 2015). Today around seven-in-ten Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves. Since social media is controlled by the public and the ratings that keep news broadcasters in business is controlled by the public, people, essentially, have the most substantial influence on society’s level of integrity.
Another contributing factor worth noting is the American citizen’s constitutional right to vote, a privilege many fought and sacrificed to achieve, have been taken for granted by the current generation. The national number of registered voters in 2016 was just over 200 million; however, the U.S. has a staggering low turnout rate among elections. In August 2016, the Pew Research Center ranked the U.S. 31st out of 35 countries for voter turnout based on the voting age populace, among the most democratic nations that are a part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Studies show that some people may fall into the trap of negative advertising and be divided between candidates, but there are a lot of people who avoid the polls due to negative advertising (Mandelaro, 2016). Estimates show more than 58 percent of eligible voters went to the polls during the 2016 election (Regan, 2016). Official statistics vary, but a conservative estimate, calculated using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent Voting and Registration Supplement, indicates that 21.4 percent were not registered to vote in 2014. A poll of unregistered voters responded to why they are unregistered. Forty-four percent of eligible unregistered individuals say they do not want to vote. Another 27 percent say they intend to register but haven’t done so yet, and 25 percent say they are unregistered because they have not been inspired by a candidate or issue. These statistics show that the unregistered voter population is not energized to vote. Whether the citizen was unregistered or did not cast his or her vote, it’s clear he or she was and is not motivated because there is no candidate that inspires his or her belief that the leader or the vote matter.
In short, we are all accountable, and if we do not stop blaming each other, take ownership and shape up, the wheel will continue to turn. Like a water mill, the continued dirty political practice is a cyclic effect. It requires courage to shoulder the consequences of mistakes, gratitude to recognize the learning opportunity, and wisdom to remember the lesson - we learn, we resolve, and we evolve.
Identify and implement tentative solutions to the problem:
Ratings and Polls Can Set Better Standards
The two-party system has been present since the birth of America. Despite each political party’s varying values, their goals are the same – making America be the best country it can be. These aligned goals have made it possible for the two political parties to make more compromises than conflict, until recently at least. The factors listed below have begun to validate President John Adams and President Lincoln’s ominous warnings.
• The Democrats and the Republicans recent increase of rivalry for power prioritizing over the public’s welfare
• Superfluous news and social media coverage of the high amount of partisan problems with content that scandalize both super parties
• The public’s increased attention and participation to political party warfare
• American’s emotional investment with their chosen party
This a dangerous combination of problems, one that has the potential to create the perfect storm for self-destruction.
If it’s Broken, Fix it -
America has been dominated by a two-party system—meaning that one of two major political groups have fought against the other to obtain one of the high ranking political offices since the United States of America claimed her independence. The two-party system has always had an undercurrent of feuding political powerhouses, which had already once threated to self-destruct in 1861. The undercurrent feud between the two-dominant political parties has resurfaced. Democrats’ and Republicans’ inability to work together for the country’s benefit, the very purpose of their jobs, has gotten so out of hand that they have directed their energies to fight with one another than to fight for making America better. The partisan feud has resulted in many misguided government officials forgetting their priorities, compromising their characters, and worst of all, neglecting their duties—their promise and commitment to us, the American citizens—to protect each person’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Political party members have become more loyal to their party than to their country. The government is not doing its job, and the American public is suffering from unresolved problems. Politicians’ recent juvenile antics; like waiting for a catastrophe to fall from a policy made by one party so that the other can point a finger and say, “We told you so”; one party creating hurdles to jump over and red tape to go around that hold up or stop a policy, bill, law, legislation altogether because it was made by the opposing party, are hurtful to the people and antagonistic for larger scale negative reactions from their political counterparts. In addition to the regression of our government’s function, the appointed officials’ immature and inconsiderate behaviors have set the tone and standard for our society— American citizen’s shunning and fighting one another over party affiliations have become tragic and common news reports.
When there are only two major political parties dominating the political arena, people get stuck in a mindset that only one of the two can win. Unfortunately, some people fall into the trap of partisanship and focus on only one common enemy, the other side. Since there are only two parties that dominate politics, the media, and the system, the people become easily embedded with the system and become more divided than unified.
Learn and Evolve—
• The Politicians:
One remedy is eliminating a two-party system that has turned into a self-destructive political battlefield – a war zone between two parties. Reforming to a multi-party system would create more options for voters, as well as alleviate voters’ pressure to be on one of two sides.
Is the multi-party system better than the two-party system? A multi-party system is not perfect, but it is a fact that the majority of countries around the world use this system. And, sure, there are some political parties in developed countries that tend to be extreme, but the chances of an extreme political party gaining power significantly decrease because a multi-party system promotes diversity.
Shockingly, the parties don’t just have the people “supporting” them, but laws and restrictions that back them: ballot laws that restrict third parties from running for government, debate restrictions that prevent minor party candidates from being in the debate, and corporate/partisan media that does not give any attention to the small parties, other than the two primary ones.
Ditch the debate restrictions and laws that are intentionally designed to make it impossible for any other party or independent high ranking political candidate to realistically run for an office. Replace the ballot laws and the debate restrictions, and the 24-hour corporate/partisan media with independent media; provide people with more than two political party candidates to hold local, state, and federal offices. Contribute to a genuine reform- help re-unit the country that is suffering from a broken system.
• News and Social Media:
Journalists need to be held accountable for reporting actual news; providing context; and being fair. It is the job of all journalists to fully investigate, confirm, and report information to the public without biases or a hidden agenda. Journalists are compelled with forfeiting their right to broadcasting an opinion or sharing information in a manipulative way that would cultivate viewers and readers’ judgments that would align with their own beliefs. We rely on them to be the watchdogs and only tell us what they know for sure, not what they think or what we should think. Social media organizations are, too, compelled with the same responsibility. Facebook recently experienced problems with having its members posting false news that quickly spread as truth, causing small bursts of commotion-unveiling the already ‘outdated’ social media platform’s potential for creating serious civil chaos if the company had continued to leave its members less closely monitored.
• The American Public:
Ironically, it is the public’s inaction that can significantly decrease partisanship – by refraining from posting, discussing, watching – supporting in any way, negatively charged politics; politicians, news broadcasters, and journalists will be forced to change. Politicians will decrease negative campaigning if polls show it lowers their popularity; consequently, news will have less negative politics to report and will be unmotivated to report if the content coverage indicate a drop in the ratings, and less “retweets” or sharing social media posts will be possible if less negative political posts exist and those that do are not “liked” or acknowledged. If the goal is to capture the American audience’s attention, then it is our responsibility to consider the content that we give attention. Can this happen overnight? No, but we the American people can gain that reform. Ending the two-party duopoly will take time, but if we can run for office or stage a protest or do anything that would make a change to the system, we will be a step closer to the solution.
It’s no doubt that partisan, ideological politicians will still be in government, but most of the time, we need moderates and less extreme politicians to balance the division out (Edkins, 2017). Unless there is a change in the system, society’s civility will inevitably continue to deteriorate.