As a boy, I remember the adults discussing politics without getting mad at each other. How did we ever get so polarized and incapable of polite conversation?
The first cause is gerrymandering, which discriminates against moderates in favor of extremists. Moderates can talk, while extremists just scream. I have written extensively about this.
Another cause is the separate echo chambers we inhabit. Republicans limit their news intake to their safe providers, and Democrats do the same. Related to this has been the death of debate. Safe news providers regularly stage “fair and balanced” debates on every subject, by inviting two political hacks to spin their talking points. Nobody has ever accused news anchors of being good debate judges. Debate is more than mere pugilistic spin. As this pugilistic spin increased, honest debate decreased.
One analyst thinks the Republicans are slavishly devoted to their ideology, while Democrats are slavishly devoted to their constituencies. Maybe? But, discussing such a question will anger both sides.
The explosion of news sources had the unintended consequence of commercializing news. Now, the sole purpose of news is to sell advertising. Do you think Rupert Murdoch would have allowed Roger Ailes to create the conservative juggernaut of Fox News if he couldn’t make a profit? He saw a large segment of the population feeling under-served. He served it by selling advertising and made more billions.
If I had to point the finger at any one person most responsible for the polarization of political discussion, I would say Newt Gingrich. He encouraged Republicans to avoid fraternizing with Democrats, such as for drinks after work or dinners or family cookouts. It is hard to demonize your friends. He did the country no great service.
Over the last 242 years, we have survived enemies abroad and enemies within. In 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote the classic Future Shock , predicting the rate of change would keep increasing — enough to threaten the stability of a slower moving political system. Maybe?
But, America is more than a nation. It is an ideal — a durable ideal. We will continue celebrating our birthday for many years to come! I just pray we can evolve our political system as the times evolve.