As the 2020 Presidential Election reaches its climax, tensions only seem to be rising. There seems to be no end in sight. The United States has had its share of contentious elections: countless candidates have won the popular vote but lost the election. There’s also the election of 1860, which quite literally tore the nation in two. America has been through severe division and adversity before, and we’ve made it out all right in the end.
But why wouldn’t we do everything in our power to avoid reaching such a point in the first place?
On October 13, Senator Mitt Romney shared his thoughts on the current American political climate in light of the upcoming election through Twitter.
“I’m troubled by our politics, as it has moved away from spirited debate to a vile, vituperative, hate-filled morass that is unbecoming of any free nation—let alone the birthplace of modern democracy,” he wrote.
A key component of American democracy is debate. With the Constitution, the Founding Fathers hoped to create a system that runs on “spirited debate” in order to protect the rights of both the majority and minority. The “vile, vituperative, hate-filled” debates that Romney describes, however, are hardly what the founders had in mind.
“The world is watching America with abject horror,” Romney continued in his message on Twitter. “More consequentially, our children are watching. Many Americans are frightened for our country—so divided, so angry, so mean, so violent.”
If George Washington had had his way, political parties would have never formed in the first place. In his Presidential Farewell Address, Washington solemnly explained the dangerous effects of political parties, or the “spirit of party,” as he referred to them.
“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”
Unfortunately for Washington, political parties did form, and now we’re witnessing the adverse effects they can have on society. Political polarization is not a new issue; however, it has merely been growing slowly and steadily throughout history.
According to a pair of surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, Republicans and Democrats are gradually moving further away from the middle of the political spectrum. “Today,” Pew Research reports, “92% of Republicans are to the right of the median (middle) Democrat, compared with 64% twenty years ago. And 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican, up from 70% in 1994.” Furthermore, the studies found that “unfavorable” and “highly unfavorable” impressions between Republicans and Democrats of the opposing party have more than doubled since 1994.
The only way to completely rid America of the danger of political parties would be to remove them altogether. This, of course, would be impossible. We’re stuck with political parties, for better or for worse, but that doesn’t mean our political climate needs to become so harsh and cruel. Polarization is one thing; hatred is something else entirely.
As Senator Romney pleaded, “It is time to lower the heat. The consequence of the crescendo of anger leads to a very bad place. No sane person can want that.”
You do not need to let go of your political views. You shouldn’t. You need your opinions and beliefs in order to make valuable contributions to American democracy. Even so, we’ve reached the boiling point; we need to take a step back. We can continue to voice our opinions and be active citizens. In fact, democracy requires it of us. But leaders throughout our country and citizens alike, all of us, need to seriously examine the ways in which we share our opinions. We owe it to ourselves, to the future, and to the principles of democracy America was founded on.
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