The political climate of today is more than just a little tense. Even before the 2016 presidential election, the liberal and conservative sides of the American political realm were strong opposers of each other. However, in more recent years, especially after the implementation of the Trump administration, the two sides have become just that: two sides that are more and more unwilling to compromise and have resorted to blatant and sometimes vicious attacks on the other. In 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a clear representation of a far left member of the Democratic Party and she has been the subject of much criticism from the right. A clear divide between each party is becoming more evident.
Ocasio-Cortez’s main platform is the introduction of the Green New Deal, which addresses environmental issues and economic inequality. Both of these are contentious topics, especially as Trump and the Republican Party typically deny climate change. This polarization comes from the increasing sense of groupthink within each political party that fosters a “Us vs. Them” mindset. A factor that contributes to this in this day and age is the increase in sources of information, especially through the rise of social media. People of both liberal and conservative viewpoints are more likely to reach out and utilize information sources that most align with their political opinions. For example, Republican supporters would typically trust and use Fox News more while Democrats would most likely trust and use NBC more as a news source. This then confirms preconceived notions of the “other side” for these groups and further pushes them away from each other. This is even more apparent today as more politicians take to social media, especially Twitter and Instagram, to post opinions, endorsements, policies, etc. Ocasio-Cortez utilizes this platform even more so than others to reach her strongest supporters, expressing her politics to those of the younger demographic that are also more likely to use social media (Seitz-Wald 2019). In this way, not only are the opinions of each party differ starkly, but also its demographics. This also contributes even more to the homogenous thinking of each side and, in turn, the polarization.
But why is this polarization so dangerous to the state of our democracy right now? Although not all Democrats agree with the extremity of Ocasio-Cortez’s policies, a large amount of them as well as Democratic Party supporters are pushing for them as well. Because Ocasio-Cortez’s views are so strongly against those of Trump, the spokesperson for the Republican Party, it is difficult for the two sides to come to an agreement. This can even be seen in the government shutting down due to border wall disagreements. Though this occurred before the induction of the officials elected in 2018, it still indicates that both parties are becoming more and more unwilling to compromise. It also may cause even more intolerance towards different groups that each party supports. Because each side will be in the mindset to “win” instead of simply to hear each other out, it is more likely that anyone and anything associated with the other side may be vilified regardless of what it is. For example, for the border wall dispute, Republicans may want to take more extreme measures in pushing undocumented immigrants out of the country, especially as Trump is adamant about this, as they may blame them for other issues. In contrast, Democrats may be more open to undocumented immigrants just to oppose the Republican view. This brings in the “us vs. them” mindset yet again because certain groups in the country will root for one side while other groups root for the other. In addition, it brings a sort of “all or nothing” kind of attitude to both politicians and their constituents, where they are unwilling to bend or settle for less. Though competing ideas are important to democracy, the general public coming to a consensus for the betterment of society is also equally important.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with some other like-minded young politicians like Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar, are bringing a fresh take on liberal politics. We’ll have to see if they will further divide the country and erode democracy or if they will be a positive change for it.
Photo by Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP.