"A house divided against itself surely cannot stand" -Abe Lincoln
Surely the same can be said for a country divided against itself. I've never claimed to know that much about politics and the works of the state. I have my own views, and I know a good bit of history, and I find it astounding that this country is able to function properly with so much dissent amongst itself. People have become more vocally opinionated, and harshly so, with mudslinging and namecalling. Maybe I'm just reading or watching the wrong things, but this level of pettiness upsets me. I don't recall this much division and active, well, hate between people who stood for their political parties before. The internet doesn't help this, and the media certainly doesn't help. I read an article recently that made me think about all this:
A Country Divided: Examining the State of Our UnionGeorge Stephanopoulos and ABC News Look at America's Political PolarizationJune 30, 2006
Members of Congress may not come to the floor armed with pistols as they did in the days leading up to the Civil War, but their words are as toxic as any time since then. And we are — in many ways — a more divided nation than any time since then.George Stephanopoulos looks at America's growing political divide in "A Country Divided: The State of Our Union."(ABC)
In interviews with political leaders, media analysts, and people in communities around the country, ABC News found what appears to be a new phenomenon: the polarization is feeding on itself. It's not just politicians, business or religious leaders, liberals or conservatives -- or the media: It's each of us. And it's alarming.
"The Big Sort" -- Surrounding Ourselves With Ourselves
Bill Bishop, a reporter for the Austin-American Statesman newspaper in Texas, conducted a three-year investigation into America's divide. Bishop and statistician Bob Cushing reached back over the last 14 presidential election cycles and counted Republican and Democratic votes in all 3,100 American counties.
The research yielded some startling information. "There's a steady trend line from '76 to 2004 of the country becoming, pulling apart, becoming more politically segregated. We began to see this pattern that we eventually end up calling "The Big Sort," said Bishop.
Montclair, N.J., is one of the many communities across the country that illustrates "the big sort" that Bishop and Cushing observed. A generation ago the community's vote was split 50-50 Democrat - Republican. But the 2004 election was a blowout: 78 percent for John Kerry.
In Essex County where Montclair is situated, the margin of victory has steadily widened in every presidential election since 1976. It's happening across the country. In 2004, the overwhelming majority of counties were decided by margins of 20 percent or more. The number of Americans living in these landslide counties has doubled over the last 30 years. Today, half of all Americans are living in polarized communities.
And to the political scientists who say this notion that we're divided more divided than ever is just an absolute myth, Bishop says: "I would say spend some time in Lubbock, Texas and then spend some time in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You have to look at the street level. You have to look at where people live. It's not states. States are the wrong way to look at how people live. People live in communities. It's at that community level that people are becoming more segregated."
Bishop says part of it is just a natural part of social interactions. "Given a choice, people will choose to read, be among, watch, live with, worship with, vote with, people who are like themselves," he said.
What's Pushing Us Apart?
In "State Of the Union" ABC News conducts two experiments that illustrate the impact of "the big sort." In the first, Cass Sunstein, a University of Chicago law professor, conducts a remarkable experiment for ABC News that demonstrates that like-minded people are pushed to more and more extreme positions when they group together. It has profound and troubling implications for the country. In the second experiment, University of Pennsylvania professor Diana Mutz demonstrates the impact of so-called "shout TV," which is the media manifestation of "the big sort."
She shows that viewers are very likely to misunderstand those who disagree with them when they watch people shouting at each other. And the ongoing civilized debate that is a cornerstone of American democracy can be lost in the process. All of this is accelerated by the internet. About eight million people log on to political blogs, or partisan web journals every day, creating virtual communities of like-minded partisans who demonize each other.
Some politicians, partisans themselves, see the problem but not the solution. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., tells Stephanopoulos: "I think that culturally right now we have a system in which we don't have a broad conversation among people who don't agree with each other.
And one of the biggest challenges I think we face as a nation is how do we create those spaces. Supposedly the Senate, the body on which I serve, is supposed to be the greatest deliberative body in the world … It's not happening." Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham adds: "The best evidence I think of how polarized America has become is that it makes news when Democrats and Republicans do something of substance together and that truly is a shame. We've gone from the Senate being presumed to be above party politics to where the news is we rejected party politics."
I also would like to post the only comment on this article, which I though was well thought out, calm, and articulated in a intelligent manner:
Currently, judging from what I have seen and heard, there is a lot of anger out there about the current presidential election. But anger comes from passion and right now we are all passionate, not just our future but the future of our children. I don´t believe for one minute that this hostility is because our citizens are being mean. I believe we are afraid and these feelings come out in the form of anger. I believe we all feel that this is not just another election. Right now, between the economic mess we are in, our infrastructure problems and our broken relations with other governments we are in serious trouble. What is happening in most of our communities is scary and to some, terrifying. Even the most positive outlook is that this quagmire will take years to fix. But I have hope and that is what I really want to focus on. I am so proud of all of us, democrats, republicans and independents. Proud of the fact that we are realizing that our opinions count and our voices are rising finally in the form of our vote. I don’t care what party you belong to, what nationality you are or what faith you practice. We are ONE nation and we are ONE people. Our ancestors fought for the right to be a free nation and honored us with the title "The United States of America". Granted we will not always agree on the direction to take, but I do believe we all want to end up at the same place - to have freedom of choice, the right to make a good living so that we can take care of our families and the ability to make it happen. We are all of strong stock and it is in our strength as a united people where we have always been at our best. Let us not forget that the number of politicians are few compared to the citizens they work for. We, the citizen, are the fuel that keeps the economy running. We are the power that elects and everyone who can vote should make their voice heard. Who am I voting for? Well I have chosen to vote for Barack Obama. I believe he truly wants positive change for US citizens and will work tirelessly to implement the changes he has promised. But I know that my opinion is my own and my vote is my choice, you have to make yours. But isn´t it wonderful that we all have the right to add our voice in this process, no matter what our decision. Our similarities make us united, our differences make us unique and in this we find our true strengths.
MV Duke 10/23/08
This kind of thought kind of gives me hope. While you may not agree with everything our country is doing or the direction things are headed, you can actively try to help things, make a difference. But to just yell and shout past each other does nothing constructive for either side. I hope that people can learn to help this country together, and that reaching across the aisle is a good thing. Judging and intolerance are destructive forces that will inevitably do no good for this union.
Comments? I'm not really making a point. Well, I kind of am, but I'm mainly making observations and voicing them.