Polarization, a threat to American democracy

Angelo D'Agostini
Credit: Donkeyhotey

Year after year, it seems moderate Americans are being pushed further to a particular political party and firmly adopting their respective ideology. From the events that we have already seen, the 2020 presidential campaign will only intensify the country’s polarization. However, the widening divide has the possibility to destroy American democracy.

Tribalism is part of human-nature, developed long ago when our species discovered survival was more plausible through collaboration, compromise and sacrifice. Millenniums later, our modern form of tribalism functions through our construction of social circles with likeminded people, used to find a natural sense of belonging; sports, religion and politics seem to be the most obvious examples. Unfortunately, these practices exemplify a severe consequence of our inclusive nature which is the resulting exclusion from our groups through the threat of differences. As tribalism fits into modern politics, technology has created the growing formation of echo chambers where members of a group can place themselves within a society of like-minded people without being exposed to views that they disagree with. Conjointly, these groups can force out disagreeable individuals, suppressing their conflicting views.

These chambers are a dangerous. With the practice of suppressing conflicting views, people begin to shrink ideologically and simultaneously adopt a dogma. Naturally, where one dogma forms, those who disagree develop their own. With two conflicting views being widely adopted, the middle is forced to lean. Because of a lack of options and a natural desire to belong, the middle starts to choose a side and the gap between the groups continue to grow; what is unfolding in the United States.

Obviously, such stark division is not unique to American society; calling to mind the Civil War which must serve as the pinnacle of polarization in American political history. However, Technology is the crucial factor that makes polarization from the mid-to-late 1800’s different than that of today. Specifically, technology provides the means to extend reach without facing geographical limitations. These echo chambers have the ability to take form in multiple different mediums (twitter accounts, TV channels, podcasts), increasing its overall reach to potentially anyone who uses the internet, making these chambers large in numbers and vast in geographical area. Additionally, technology allows for the greater suppression of conflicting views by giving users the ability to choose, or filter information. As humans have the ability to choose which type of information they receive, they being to further submit to an ideological dogma (consciously or subconsciously), and more importantly, cease to challenge their ideology with differing perspectives.

Dogmas negatively effect personal and societal development due to learned instinctiveness to accept and dismiss information based on one’s ideological identification. Furthermore, the revision of dogma is almost impossible because its development is built upon important overarching perspectives shared by the group, unlikely to change. Additional effects of dogmatic beliefs are the growth of generalizations and simplifications about those that think differently, specifically the idea that those who have different perspective are genuinely “different”. Such submission to dogma and rejection of differences stunts our societal progression and pushes us further into a deeper divide.

This polarization has the ability to destroy American democracy and society because it has become violent. As our dogmas resonate deeper, intolerance of an opposing view increases and violence results because we believe we perceive a genuine threat to our important beliefs. This violence escalates and is justified under defense of the society and self. We become engulfed in a world of retaliations fueled by our tribal political identification.

Americans must not be so arrogant to forget empires do not last forever. The United States will lose its political and economic strength just as the Romans, the Mongols and the British before them. If Americans wish to keep international power and all the benefits derived from it (in any logical sense they should certainly aspire to remain the worlds most powerful country), Americans must not fall deeper into polarization. It’s easy to read the polarization paradox and place the blame on your adversary, but that is exactly the behavior we must acknowledge and disown. We must have the humility and courage to attentively listen and find compromise with those who think differently than us. Americans must be more active in surveying other perspectives. By stepping outside our comfort zone, challenging ourselves to have a respectful debate and not relying on partisan news outlets for our information, Americans can reverse the tide of polarization. Regardless of how the 2020 election is decided, Americans must emerge with the intention to be bonded together and resolve with their problems as one nation, as opposed to two parties.

Here is another article by Angelo D’Agostini

Public Affairs e Comunicazione dell'Istituto per la Competitività (I-Com). Nata a Venezia nel 1986, lavora come istruttrice di vela durante gli anni del liceo e dell’università. Si laurea in giurisprudenza all’Università di Bologna con una tesi in diritto della navigazione.

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