The outpouring of reductionist and reactionary comments from mainstream media talking heads and social media personalities on and following Election Night 2020 serves as a somber reminder that the end of Donald Trump’s presidency will not bring renewed unity and cooperation between Americans. Immediately after the 2020 election the opinion pieces began to flow and all semblance of unity was quashed as it became clear that this election would not be a landslide rebuke of Trump, but rather a bitter struggle between two flawed candidates and in a nation divided over its history and its future. From Mitchel Jackson, a creative writing professor at the University of Chicago, we hear the line which is now parroted by people across the nation, “Those 71 million fellow Americans are now registered racists.” Of course, Jackson was not alone in calling every Trump voter a racist, just see the Boston Globe, or Miami Herald.
So much for our unity. So much for the normalcy that we were promised. So much for understanding and appreciating differing viewpoints. From the highest reaches of education, those who should be most open minded and welcoming of alternative perspectives have reduced half the country to nothing more than racist. Beyond the fact that this ignores the substantial gains in the African American community that Trump made in 2020, this sort of rhetoric serves exactly one purpose: to anger.
Rather than discussing and understanding the views of fellow Americans, people are inclined to simply reduce others to their most basic political beliefs, often quite erroneously. We have entered a time when voting for a Democrat immediately makes you a socialist baby killer. We have entered a time when voting for a Republican immediately makes you a racist and sexist bigot. There is no room for nuance in our new age of division, and any indication that you would seek to understand another’s viewpoint is met with derision from those enlightened few who simply know they are correct, never needing to encounter another opinion in their life. Your politics define you now more than ever, and your politics have become a reflection of who you are morally; if you vote for Trump, you are deep down a racist. If you vote for Biden, you are deep down an irreligious socialist.
Truly, there is no room left for nuanced discussion about morality and politics. This is the deepest and most perilous threat to our democracy in some time. Gone are the days when politicians could reach across the aisle, work with and commend their colleagues on their beliefs and their work. Instead, the public demands the ostracization and abandonment of those with differing opinions, always justifying it by reducing their opponents’ arguments to the most extreme of the political spectrum. The hallmark of any vibrant democracy is discussion and debate, but currently, we only seem open to discussion within circles of like minded friends.
I have spoken with people who have told me they would not debate someone they disagree with. It amused me at the time, thinking about a debate club where everyone argued the same side of an issue, but looking back on it now, it no longer makes me smile. It is indicative of the greater issue we face as a country. We have reached levels of demonization which makes it heretical to talk to people you disagree with, even when politics are left out of the discussion. We and we stay in our bubbles, afraid to venture out and open ourselves to new ideas.
This cannot continue. A democracy cannot long endure a populace so divided and so vitriolic. Sooner or later, something must change. We must begin to see people in a more positive manner. We must stop denigrating our opponents. We must stop demonizing them because their views differ from our own. We must stop the divisive discourse or else doom ourselves to a fractured nation of two warring political ideologies, distrusting and hating all those who dare to disagree. The time has come to halt the division, and discuss what your neighbors, your co-workers, your colleagues, your family, and your friends think without judgement, without derision, without prejudice, and without hatred. If you’re lucky you’ll change a mind, and at the very least, you may learn something new.
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A. is a student at the College of William & Mary.