Politics revolves around ideologies that compete for power and prevalence on the political stage. The intentionally provocative nature of these rival ideologies often has the adverse effect of making people focus more on making ideological points rather than considering the individuals affected by those points. Recently, American politics has taken this turn, where reality and morals are neglected in favor of direct ideological action, resulting in the destruction of local environments, cultural instability, and the loss of lives. If Americans really want what is best for their country, they should facilitate societal development by opening a dialogue between themselves and those on the other side of the political spectrum. To heal America’s deep bipartisan wounds, Americans must critically analyze their relationship with their ideology, try to understand their political opposers and the effect of the media, and help create a more nuanced environment of political discourse.
What are the moral foundations of conservatives and liberals? This is a difficult question as it could very well generalize and therefore oversimplify the situation. Instead, we’ll focus on what informs the morals of Americans. Historically, the root has been cited as the Christian values as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in his monumental book, “Democracy in America,” saying, “there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than America.” Observably, this is less the case today, but it plants our context. Our institutions from the White House to the local Post Office and their leaders across time were heavily informed by the Christian values of the Bible, which gives both a top-down and bottom-up informant of American culture. While maintaining a newly secular approach to massive public education reform, politician Horace Mann noted, “our system earnestly inculcates all Christian morals; it founds its morals based on religion; it welcomes the religion of the Bible.” Additionally, as of today, nearly three quarters (70%) of the American population (~230,000,000+ people based on total population) identifies as Christian. So, there is a direct affiliation between over half of the American population with the Christian faith which derives its morals from the Bible. It could then be reasoned that when the majority of the culture and governmental institutions, most notably the educational system, has in mind or root the values of the Bible, that Christian values, or more broadly, Judeo-Christian values indirectly inform the moral code of the vast majority of Americans.
The next question is, what are the morals of the Bible? A condensed insight is given directly from the Bible in Mark 7:20 – 7:23: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” We now have a list of what the Christian faith considers evil and that to be proper christian one should, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). While some of the “evils” listed above could be more disputed than others for the individual, such as murder versus lewdness, it should be considered by individual Americans where, precisely, they disagree and agree with the word of the Bible in relation to their own moral code. This is not to say that the Bible should or shouldn’t be one’s moral code, but as an accessible reference for comparison. They could then take the part of the biblical moral code that is most in line with their own moral code and apply it themselves and measure to what faith they have acted by these standards. A non-Christian, for instance, could take the “evil” of malice to which they have a subjective and potentially ambiguous feeling against and consider if and how they have acted with malice in the past and how to make sure to act less maliciously in the future. This would be living in alignment with one’s morals.
Americans must therefore consider and analyze their own ideals. If we can assume that strong and reasonable ideals hold up against scrutiny and coexist with one’s sense of morals, then why shouldn’t each American citizen hold themselves to this standard as a measure of the strength, rationality, and reality of their beliefs? Wouldn’t the consideration of our potential blindspots and accounting for them make our ideologies more philosophically sound? Americans should be wary of their blindspots, where their reason fades to turbulent emotionality, where morals surrender, and where we lose altogether the voice that asks, “is this productive and warranted?” A way to measure this is by comparing our actions to whatever informs our moral code. This, as well as closely scrutinizing the evidence and direct informants of our ideology and worldview in order to make sure that what is being adapted is not driven by a stranger’s desire for profit, glory, or power or their own unknowing misinformation, allows us to measure our blindspots.
There is a reason people believe what they believe, and to delegitimize their beliefs because of their identity poses the problem of the continued counter-radicalization between either side due to the amplification of “mutual anger.” Ultimately, ideologies are only a set of ideas. We must lend more significance to the people and environment that are affected by our ideology’s translation into reality. A set of ideas is worthless when it becomes more valuable than the people involved. An example of ideology trumping people could be the contention surrounding “Latinx,” a term used by liberals to describe Hispanic peoples in a gender-neutral way. It turns out that a majority of Hispanic people in the U.S. don’t prefer this terminology, with 61% preferring “Hispanic,” 29% preferring “Latino,” and 4% preferring “Latinx.” Slovenian Philosopher Slavoj Žižek notes how the attitude of tolerance can act with a cultural “permissive authority that succeeds totalitarianism” and leads to behavior that is “very patronizing,” invoking the idea that “I know better than you what you really want.” Liberals, as well as all Americans, must make sure that they are grounded in reality and aligned with the actual needs of the people of different communities, working to listen to their problems and working with them to create solutions faithfully without getting lost in ideology.
It is the responsibility of the individual American to contemplate if their actions are in line with their morals and if their ideology is clouding their judgement. Political beliefs, or ideology, can drive someone to act in violence, destruction, hatred, or greed, and this is how individuals fail their morals. When the vast number of self identified Pro-Trump Christians at the Capitol attack of Jan. 6 were responsible for $30,000,000 of destruction of property and the violent assault of over 150 police officers, a question was raised regarding the discrepancy between Christian ethics and the rioter’s actions. When white liberals, supporting racial equality, develop patronizing and overly simplistic attitudes towards minorities and minority audiences in what psychologists Susan Fiske and Cydney Dupree of Princeton School of Public and International Affairs call “competence downshift,” they are underestimating certain groups’ abilities differently according to race. Emmet Rensin of Vox describes it as, “the smug style of American liberalism,” manifesting as, “a condescending, defensive sneer toward any person or movement outside of its consensus, dressed up as a monopoly on reason,” citing various political commentators such as Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone article, “The Republicans Are Now Officially the Party of White Paranoia”. There seems to be a tendency for both the left and the right to be ideologically guided away from the living people of reality and/or their code of morals. What makes people act out of line with or alter their perception of their moral code? Could it partly be the effect of a highly profitable realm of political media?
It is a tendency for media outlets to attract a certain political side, which in turn gives them an audience. For smaller media outlets like The Colbert Report or The Rush Limbaugh Show, they will then produce content specifically for that audience, engage more with their personal biases, and most importantly oversimplify complex political topics and issues with dumbed down scripts. Whether by a necessity to be concise or by intention to promote an idea, they cast an authoritative voice or tone over an issue without clarifying all the details for their program. Larger media outlets respond more subtly through what stories or political candidates they ignore and the rhetoric they use to present a story. Throughout the 2020 Democratic Primaries, for example, MSNBC decided to bar certain candidates from their shows as well as greatly diminish the time allotted for certain candidates to speak despite their polling during the primary debate they hosted. During the 2008 Presidential Election, MSNBC and FOX were distinct counters to one another. Compared to the tone of the general media, MSNBC reported both more positively in tone on Barack Obama and more negatively on John McCain whereas FOX did the exact opposite. This doesn’t even include social media, with profits derived from advertising revenue, which is acquired by maintaining users’ attention on the website. Sites like Facebook have intensive algorithms to show users what most appeals to their preferences, including a political affinity, which promotes content that is driven into polarization, recommending right leaning users to join extremist groups such as QAnon. This direct relationship to users leads to what Journalism and Communications Associate Professor, Nicole Dahmen, says is a lack of, “diversity of perspectives that contribute to political discourse,” developing into “an echo chamber.” It is the byproduct of a media outlet’s search for revenue that leads to them promoting divisive, eye-catching content to users, limiting the diversity of their consumption and having the potential effect of radicalizing users into absolutism, where their political beliefs cement into conviction. The conception of two differing realities is born. The bottom line is this: where one gets their news makes a difference in their understanding of politics and the world. Their bombardment of a particular political perspective feeds into their biases, creates polarization, and makes the left and right understand each other less and become more willing to cause violence for ideology, as shown by a timeline of QAnon-related violence and the large percentage of Christians that make up QAnon conspiracy groups.
At times, the media can be much more explicit. It is the classic con of rallying against an ambiguous scapegoat that has proven lucrative for some media entities and figures. For MSNBC, it’s fascism on the right. For FOX News, it’s the general left and ‘dems.’ For political pundit Ben Shapiro, it’s ‘disintegrationists.’ In his book, “How to Destroy America In Three Easy Steps,” he claims that “disintegrationists attack the values that built the nation,” referring specifically to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders discussing the more violent and destructive aspects of American history at a convention. They are not Americans who want to acknowledge history, they are “disintegrationists.” Sounds scary. Suddenly the left are all anarchists or communists. At the same time, other left wing pundits deem the right as fascist. It is this sort of rhetoric that is propagated from media outlets on both sides that get Americans to understand each other less and dislike each other more.
It is important to delegitimize the media entities that cultivate this way of thinking and to consider the profit that comes into play. We can do this by testing our media literacy, to start questioning the messages that are being communicated to us, through what platforms, and how. We can develop a more nuanced understanding of the world by incorporating other outlets’ reviews of a story as well as the ones we’re familiar with. Are QAnon believers aware of the history of 4chan, the site that ‘Q’ was posting on? 4chan is responsible for some of the largest, if not the largest, online pranks, controversies, and conflicts in internet history, including faking bomb threats, news, movements, exaggerating conflict (gamergate), humorizing fatal catastrophes (‘Ebola-chan’), and organizing to fake public voting opportunities (Taylor Swift’s biggest fan public bote). The invalidity of 4Chan is a perfect reason why Americans should diversify their media outlet consumption. It could be immensely beneficial to our political system and culture if the government engaged with nonprofits currently doing the work to educate older generations about media literacy. It could also help if social media platforms would directly engage users by showing the bias and evidence of certain outlets and articles like Ground News does. It could be argued that if FaceBook really cared about the wellbeing of their users, they would communicate with them about why their linked sources and outlets could lack evidence or promote bias rather than simply banning or censoring them. If the media and government won’t do it, then we must do it ourselves. We must make the decision to seek disproof of our biases and actively challenge them to ensure that our beliefs are based on solid evidence. Instead of listening to what others report about those who disagree ideologically, whether it be the left or the right, we should communicate with them ourselves. Americans should seek the face-to-face interactions with their political disagreers and talk to them, rather than settling for the assumption that the left is out to murder babies and the right is out for a fascist dictatorship. When we fall for the simplified biases of other people, trying to pay for their bills and care for their families, we shut off other perspectives and develop a close-mindedness.
It is this close mindedness that contributes to Americans’ inability to understand each other and often leads to the condemnation of one another. A lack of understanding is revealed by the caricaturization and oversimplification of the beliefs of the other side. The simplification of the other side hurts an understanding of the logical progression of individual histories influenced by their environments which would develop the beliefs of a person. If we were to open up our minds to better understand each other, our backgrounds, our histories, our families, and our neighborhoods, our judgement would be less shallow and more refined. This concept is not foreign to our understanding of the modern world. In any history class we learn about the progression of scientific and philosophical understandings of the world, starting with the scientific method. Through these methods of understanding, we come to analyze certain ideas with a more thoughtful lens, analogous to the historical progression of science and the philosophical understanding of the world. As humans learned more about how and why their environment came to be, we placed less emphasis on the value-within-itself idea that things are simply the way they are and it was as simple as that. It was our inquisitive nature of our surroundings that led us to progress scientifically and therefore rationally. If we used this approach, why couldn’t Americans learn to better understand their political opponents, adopt a more tolerant stance, and be more considerate to each other, progressing as a society?
Americans should work to create an environment to share political ideas and beliefs with the objective of understanding people from different viewpoints. If people consider their own blindspots and seek to understand their political opponents, we would then realize that we are more alike than different. Is it unimaginable that the political left and right could agree for the security and welfare of the people and country? Therefore, it is essential to be open minded, to hear the words of the supposed opposition and internalize them, to seek not contempt but solutions to problems, and to create the capacity for compromise. For that is where change is most societally fair and the least resentment brews. If Americans were to take on this task of understanding and compromise, there’s a good chance for the divisive political environment to improve.
On the other hand, when the political environment is strained and discussion dries out, it is the isolation of the sides that can lead to radicalization and soon violence. Jordan Peterson acknowledges this when he notes that blocking individuals for contentious political speech on more publicly known social media sites leads those individuals to find a more isolated place to communicate where there is less spotlight, giving way for group polarization. Interestingly, he mentioned this before radical Trump supporters had rallied on largely conservative social media apps like Parler, Telegram, and TheDonald due to having posts and users banned, flagged, or censored on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube (though, some planning on these apps proved to leak through moderation). Conservatives like Debbie Dooley, the president of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, who were blocked from posting on Facebook with the only justification reportedly being “it looks like you hit one of our limits,” led her group to Parler, saying, “if you’re gonna have that much censorship, transition over to Parler.” And so many conservatives did. This eventually led to the 2021 U.S. Capitol Attack where 5 people died and damages amounted to $30,000,000. It is important to consider the impetus for such an event and differentiate between censorship of misinformation and censorship of controversial political opinions. While there were conservatives who spread misinformation, knowingly or unknowingly, and were justifiably censored, there is the case of conservatives like Debbie Dooley being blocked for promoting their political content which amplified the “flock” to Parler.
It is the phenomena of groupthink and deindividuation that inspires people in large numbers to act in violent and destructive ways, rather than with their morals. These assemblies of individuals ride the waves of their political frustration, clouding critical reasoning (groupthink) in preference for uniformity and plan events which often lead to the opportunity for impulsive and seemingly anonymous violence to occur (deindividuation). According to Georgetown University Psychology Professor Fathali Moghaddam, echo chambers lead to faster radicalization. Echo chambers can lead to “moral disengagement” and therefore violence, especially in the youth. One approach to addressing echo chambers is to focus on building trust with those who have built a systematic distrust against those certain topics, groups, or ideas. We should not let ourselves fall into isolation with our political thinking and should instead open up the environment for people to express their views without being so harshly criticized and insulted, while maintaining our communicated standards of spreading misinformation. It could be the job of the educational systems of this country to properly engage older students with diverse media and get them to learn more about each other politically, to introduce to our youth a positive political environment as an example of how to talk to one another and potentially compromise. Those individuals with neglected frustrations will find a way to amass. With the Capitol Riots, it began with their censorship on Facebook for their political views as well as their misinformed comments, and when their speech went unheard they sought a more hidden place with like minded people. A similar but less deliberate form are riots inspired by racial injustice, which spark from the State or society’s lack of accountability with bigotry as was observed in the devastating and violent LA Riots when a video clearly revealed white police officers viciously brutalizing Rodney King for a DWI. While foul in their own right and horrible with their effects on individuals, violence and destruction accelerate the polarization as either side will see the other as less and less comprehensible and more contemptible. So in the end, we must try our absolute best to stick to whatever informs our morals and avoid the hurtful acts that only send us farther away from resolution.
The Founding Fathers feared and warned against the effects of such political polarization and parties. Since George Washington’s farewell address where he stated, “the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it,” Americans knew of the dangers of bipartisanship. Washington himself set an example of integration and cooperation as he chose his cabinet to be of diverse political beliefs, with Alexander Hamilton representing merchants and centralized banking interests with a loose vision of the Constitution, as well as Jefferson, representing more the interests of farmers with a strict vision of the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson would note in “The Opposers of the Bank,” “A man under the tyranny of party spirit is the greatest slave upon the earth.” It is up to us today to decide whether or not we will act in light of the wisdom bestowed upon us by our Founding Fathers. Currently, some members of Congress are trying to break up our Two-Party system. Virginia Congressman Don Beyer has sponsored the Fair Representation Act and is trying to get Democrats to reintroduce the act that seeks to, “create multi-member House districts in states with more than one representative,” and, “require those districts to be drawn by independent commissions to minimize gerrymandering and allow voters to choose representatives in those districts using a ranked-choice voting system.” This could mean the potential for multiple parties would lead to more competition securing the vote. Politicians would have to work harder to gain our trust through rank-choice voting. A more rigorous political system that is more proportionally representative of the beliefs of Americans could help diminish the two teamed game that has been going on for the last 250 years. Better representation would be a more meaningful and fulfilling political system that promotes communication and understanding.
If Americans better understood each other, there’s no reason why American society shouldn’t improve. The more we understand, sympathize with, and contextualize each other, the more we create the environment to work together and grow as a nation. When we acknowledge our fallibility and keep our discussions open, we allow ourselves to have a stronger set of ideals. Societal unity is only possible if we talk. The more we let the media destroy our capacity for conversation the more we will dislike each other. American citizens, this is the call to try to be more open-minded and to listen. In the words of Andrew Yang, this is the call to “Make America Think Harder.”