The United States has never seen a more politically divided climate. With candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, voters have taken sides and have continued to deepen their political stances.
In addition, social media platforms have allowed more connection among like-minded individuals. These echo chambers create an atmosphere lacking political discourse. Increasingly, people don’t have to interact with those of differing opinions, which tends to create two sides who do not want to interact. These differences appear to affect everyday life as well, with more people saying they simply can’t stand to speak with those who, for example, support a rival candidate.
The problem is not that citizens are fiercely involved and passionate about political issues. It is more like the opposite. Individuals are actually detached from the political climate—since they only care about their own views and dismiss others’ as un-factual. Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook posted that he had “purged” his account. He’d removed all his friends who had a certain kind of political allegiance. I asked why, and he told me he simply couldn’t stand the political posts he was seeing. After further discussion, he let me know that all of these purged Facebook friends shared the same left-wing political beliefs. This is a representative anecdote for our current problems with political participation. In the age of social media, it becomes easier and easier to distance oneself from opposing beliefs.
This by no means is a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike contribute to the problem. Whether on college campuses or online discussion boards, members of these political groups get together and further entrench their beliefs. A Pew Research study found that 83 percent of social media users ignore or avoid interacting with opposing political posts online. Opposing sides dislike each other so much that they shy away from one another.
While this is a complex issue, the first step in mending such a fierce divide is theoretically simple — open dialogue. In practice, however, it is hard to implement. In the same Pew study, 59 percent of social media users found it stressful and frustrating to interact with those of opposing views. Many do not want to be challenged, choosing to remain comfortable in their political spheres. But it is imperative to come together and challenge each other.
People need to give up on feeling safe. They need to get comfortable with being challenged and with knowing it is acceptable to change their views. On campus, political organizations need to interact with those of opposing views. This is not to say that they must agree and find common ground. Hamilton College has tried to address this issue with the Common Ground initiative. When speakers Karl Rove and David Axelrod came to campus, they stressed that people of differing views must find common ground. Unfortunately, they did not stress the importance of dialogue on controversial issues, discussing more mundane issues instead. The goal of Common Ground should be to encourage dialogue on controversial topics. While it is stressful to engage in these conversations, they are an important first step in bringing Republicans and Democrats together.
It is time to remember that we are not just “a Republican” or “a Democrat.” While we have different ideas of what is best for the country, we must remember that everyone wants the best for its future.