PIQUERO: Polarization creates hostile environment for opposing views
Opinions Column: The Principled Millennial
In this age of hyper-polarization and divisiveness, one cannot make a political point without stroking the ire of the opposing side. No matter if the issue regards matters of fact or opinion, you can bet that most people either fall into one of those categories. This was a major issue during Barack Obama's presidency, where Republicans and conservatives alike made life difficult for the former president, and it is shaping up to be the same for President Donald J. Trump à la irate Democrats and liberals. This era of partisanship is not only degrading the ideals this country was founded upon but is also driving a wedge between citizens in a way reminiscent of the period immediately preceding the Civil War.
Surely the powers of the presidency should be — in fact, were designed to be — checked by the legislative and the judiciary, but the outright hostility and defiance by both government officials and concerned citizens in response to nearly all executive initiatives in the past week have been unprecedented. Undoubtedly this phenomenon cannot persist in a democratic society for long. Unless there is a tragic event, a war or a complete reversal of fortune for the U.S. economy, I don't see the mending of the divide as a plausible outcome in response to contemporary events.
The most recent issue of division has been Trump’s executive order to bar the influx of refugees for 90 days from seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East. The media pounced on the massive protests springing up in airports and cities all across America. The narrative was that Trump’s decision defied logic, was counterproductive and was steeped in racism. As we have seen on several occasions, the media oftentimes has a propensity to sensationalize and give a platform to the loudest voices. These voices have a tendency to localize in highly concentrated urban areas — in other words, liberal enclaves.
The truth is, despite the tremendous backlash seen across these areas to the president’s action, the decision was approved of by over 49 percent of all Americans. Of the 49 percent who supported the order, nearly a third noted that it made them feel “more safe.” Subsequent surveys have confirmed these findings. The main question is, why have these American’s opinions been discounted by the media? It is unsurprising to the informed viewer that the media would engage and stroke divisions along party and racial lines as they have done for the past year. By disregarding the views of an entire segment of America, the media has facilitated and hastened the rupture of society. Although a major reason for the polarization, the media are merely a piece to the complicated puzzle.
Polarization is not just something that is bad in theory, there are very practical concerns which can stem as a result of the toxicity and hatred that American people are beginning to have toward each other. Compromise is virtually non-existent. Both major parties are being pushed further to the extremities of their ideological spectrum. Average Americans are forced to take sides in this ridiculous political struggle that has come to define this portion of the 21st century. Our elected representatives are proving to be terrible role models for younger generations. In regards to these younger generations, specifically millennials such as myself and my peers, we have been molded by our leaders, professors and society to ignore the opinions of those we disagree with and laud the ones we do.
In a recent email to students, our own University President Robert L. Barchi issued a memorandum that was little more than a political diatribe that highlights this generational failure on the part of our “leaders.” In the email, Barchi gave a litany of reasons why the Rutgers community should resist Trump’s immigration policy, which he believes runs counter to our values. In none of the recent emails has Barchi even remotely come close to acknowledging a difference in opinion, nor has he emphasized the responsibility of a college campus to create a safe environment where the free exchange of ideas can flow without the repercussions that come along with political repression. It is clear to many conservatives on campus, of which there are many, that our opinions and views are seen even by our own University as inherently wrong and archaic. It is more apparent now than ever, as I walk around my own school and converse with people of different stripes, races and creeds, how absolutely and irrevocably divided we truly are.
This is not a Republican or Democratic issue, it is an American issue. If we cannot come together as a people we will ultimately collapse. As former President Abraham Lincoln once sagely said just two years before the Civil War: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
We would be wise to remember this.
Michael Piquero is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and history. His column, “The Principled Millennial,” runs on alternate Fridays.
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