The most popular grievance among Americans is political polarization. In recent years, Congress has had its lowest approval ratings in history, and many Americans have become frustrated and disillusioned with the political process.
What often goes unnoticed is the role average citizens have in contributing to the national stalemate.
Political polarization on the micro-level goes beyond a lack of a constructive political dialogue. People see themselves as belonging to one segment of the population, which is often at odds with another.
In his 2004 keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, then-Senate candidate Barack Obama said: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America … the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.”
Unfortunately, the reality is that too often we are more concerned with red states and blue states than the United States.
It is illogical to expect that public officials will overturn partisan gridlock when so many other forces are in play that encourage such immature behavior, and the individual encourages the division between the two Americas.
If the American people want to end the political divide, they must start on an individual basis and not as an expectation of public officials.
As a collective citizenry, we must stop dividing every facet of our lives into a social or political cause; thinking of ourselves as conservatives or liberals; white collar or blue collar; urban or rural; vegetarians or hunters; religious or secular; or Mac or PC users. There is nothing wrong with being a latte-sipping, Whole Foods-shopping, NPR-listening, bleeding-heart liberal or a gun-owning, God fearing, diesel engine-driving, red-blooded conservative.
But there is something wrong when people define themselves in such a narrow mold and have contempt for those whose interests and beliefs are different.
As if it is not enough for this sociopolitical division to be steeped in the individual, businesses and lobbying groups capitalize on it as well.
This campus knows as well as any the detriments of businesses and other organizations identifying with a political or social ideology that have nothing to do with the purpose of the group.
People have boycotted everything from Target, for supporting Planned Parenthood, to companies in Arizona, because of the 2010 immigration law, or Florida, for its so-called Stand Your Ground law.
Though there is a time and place to use economics to influence public policy, like divestment of South Africa during apartheid or the current economic sanctions in Iran, it should not be a default for political disagreement. The result is that people become more divided rather than effectively creating change.
In fact, the ability to let others express themselves even when there is disagreement is a fundamental part of what this country is about.
While one has every right to boycott a company, the company also has a right to let its opinions known even though the people of this country would be much better served to set aside political affiliation.
American culture has seen a great increase in a personal need to identify with something on a grand scale in recent years. In a time in which people feel isolated and need something greater to identify with, when unelected lobbyists and political action committees have more influence than politicians, when 24-hour cable news networks like FOX News and MSNBC dominate the media and thrive upon political polarization, when election season is always in play and times are hard, this is the result.
The good news – and yes there is good news – is that the worst of it is probably over for now.
When things get bad, people pay more attention to politics and illogical passions take precedent, but when there is less urgency in Washington, reason and cooperation become more common.
The economy is continuing to recover as the Dow Jones Industrial is among its highest levels ever. There is less fear in both political rhetoric and the everyday thoughts of the average citizen. And though it is difficult to believe, the political process has stabilized; there is slightly less at stake for politicians since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009 and President Obama’s decisive re-election last year.
The country will be able, however gradually, to become less divided. But until then, there is much that the individual must do.
Online Editor Ross Fogg is a College senior from Fayetteville, Ga.
Cartoon by Priyanka Pai