The Pew Research Center has released a new study showing the widening partisan gap between Americans. While this is not news to anyone, what is noteworthy is the cause of the increased divide: Democrats’ further leftward shift.
The study covered about two dozen topics, but particularly on the issues of race, immigrants, and how much the government should help the poor, the split between Republicans and Democrats has grown ever wider.
On the issue of welfare spending, Democrats have always favored increased amounts. In this study, it was asked if the government “should do more to help the needy, even if it means going deeper into debt,” a question particularly significant, considering the precarious levels of debt we already carry as a nation. For Democrats, 71% agreed with the statement, which is up 17 points over the past six years. The shift in Republican sentiment was negligible, which means the gap increased from 54% vs. 25% in 2011 to 71% vs. 24% now.
On the issue of the growing racial divide in America, the question was asked whether racial discrimination was the main reason blacks couldn’t get ahead in America. When Pew began tracking this question in 1994, the partisan difference here was only 13 points. Twenty-five years later, when Barack Obama took office, it had only expanded by six points to a 19 point difference. Today it’s a 50 point difference, with Democrats leaping from 28% agreement with the statement in 2009 to a 64% agreement now in 2017.
“In nearly every domain, across most of the roughly two dozen values questions tracked, views of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and those of Democrats and Democratic leaners are now further apart than in the past,” Pew noted.
The increasing division in our nation, I hope, is deeply troubling to you, as it is to me. The question is what do we do about it? We can choose to do nothing, but as a nation, that is unsustainable.
I started thinking about this further after I saw a random tweet from CNN political commentator and self proclaimed communist Van Jones. It only stuck out to me because it was about “hope,” but the “hope” he was referring to was in the context of an electoral victory. This got me reflecting on where we place our hope and what causes us fear. Fear is important to consider, because that causes us to guard territory and view others who aren’t in our “tribe” as “the enemy.” I think Yoda summed it up nicely: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
A lot of our division as a nation seems to be coming from fear and anger and hate. We fear the other side, that they and their policies are going to destroy. Destroy our nation or our planet or our communities or our lives (literally). So we are angry at them because (understandably) we don’t want any of those things destroyed. And then we hate them because we view them as the purveyors of that destruction and, therefore, evil.
This cannot lead anywhere good.
Am I suggesting we all abandon our deeply held core values and hold hands singing some hippy song about peace and harmony? No. Not only would that not work, but it would be disingenuous, because you can’t simply choose to abandon the beliefs you hold most dear.
This is a problem of such enormous proportion that it can only be solved by one person: you. Can YOU try to see those you disagree with, not as the enemy, but as a fellow human who simply holds a different view than you? Can you talk to your neighbor or co-worker who differs from you politically and see where you can find common ground so they can humanize you as well?
The fact of the matter is that we can be filled with irate fury at the policies our politicians are enacting, but our politicians are a reflection of us. They ARE us.
The only way we can back away from the precipice of destruction we’re currently peering down into is to take a good, hard look in the mirror and change the way that person is behaving, particularly on social media. It’s easy to be really nasty to “them” when you are safely behind a screen. While that might make you feel good in the moment, it will only weaken us further by adding to the division that is rotting us from within.