A few weeks ago, I was honored to have been a viewer of “America’s Divided Mind: Understanding the Psychology that Drives Us Apart”. This panel of experts raised a great deal of important ideas during their time, by which these past few years of politics have risen to the forefront. These concepts are the polarization of American politics and how different parties, even if their views are similar, would never reach agreement or compromise, and the reasoning and foundations of such.
It is important to understand exactly what polarization is meant to be within the context of the American political system. That is, the separation of two or more parties from one another in terms of fundamental viewpoints on topics. This is not how American democracy was built to function. It is how the Civil War began, to be fair. This is exactly what the panel elaborates upon “In order to effectively address toxic polarization, we must develop the ability to diagnose, understand, and address the dynamics of a polarized psychology. We need to measure the degree of toxic polarization to combat it” . As such, recognizing this polarization is the first step to disintegrating it, but something that many Americans fail to do.
In many cases, the idea of polarization from either partisan side is much more daunting than the actuality of it. This disconnect between the two political parties is a very strong indicator of how laws and resolutions are passed with relative ease. As demonstrated in today’s society, this mere disconnect has led to compromises being nearly impossible, even with a common threat: COVID. Recently, Democrats had rejected a Republican COVID relief bill, and had no plans to reconcile. Senator Pat Roberts was quoted as saying “It’s sort of a dead-end street…Very unfortunate, but it is what it is”. This refusal to settle and willingness to play hardball with the opposing political party based on misconception is dangerous and unnecessary. As a result of this suspected dehumanization, it is not difficult to assume that this generates the inter-partisan ideology of general dislike. The panel suggests that,
“…the most common feature of polarized psychology is strong feelings of dislike toward members of the other party. Current levels of dislike are strong and widespread: When asked how cold (0) or warm (100) they feel about the other party, Republicans give Democrats a score of approximately 34 out of 100, while Democrats give Republicans a score of 28 out of 100”.
Demonstrated here, the apparent dislike between the two parties establishes this already-sensitive concept that there can be no collective agreement or compromise between either side, eradicating any source of intent to do so as a result. This raises the question; why now?
Something that has puzzled political scientists and psychologists alike is why this growing trend of polarization is happening now. Psychology Today’s Kevin Dorst proposes numerous claims as to the reasoning behind this anomaly. He begins by arguing that the increasing urban-rural divide has led to deeper, entrenched polarization, citing The Big Sport’s Mickey Edwards of Princeton University. He says “We’ve built a country where we can all choose the neighborhood and church and news show — most compatible with our lifestyle and beliefs.” As a result of this forced social separation, different people from various backgrounds tend to all live, socialize, and interact with those of the same or very similar ideologies. This blinds these social groups from understanding or even engaging with others of differing views and experiences, further driving those groups apart from one another, albeit subconsciously.
Civic engagement (ironically enough), or the lack thereof, is another reason as to why polarization occurs. Robert Putnam, the Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, cites shrinking social capital as a defining factor of political polarization in the United States. He relates that “A range of additional changes have transformed the American family since the 1960s–fewer marriages, more divorces, fewer children, lower real wages, and so on. Each of these changes might account for some of the slackening of civic engagement, since married, middle-class parents are generally more socially involved than other people”. With this in mind, the progressive ideals that swept the nation from the 60s on have rooted themselves within the society that we live in today.
Polarizing topics and division can have an effect on the public and the media as well. Those who only go to Trump for news see COVID much differently than most others; it cites that two-thirds of Trump supporters view that COVID has gotten too much media attention, as opposed to just a slight majority of leaning Republicans. When basing things off of a strict partisan lens, it can become difficult to discern between real and fake, as the panel references as “due to mutual animosity between Democrats and Republicans”, or a subsequent lack of compromise or communication. Additionally, with social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and newly added TikTok, specific algorithms target certain people based upon their likes, dislikes, and other biases. These bases can create polarizing effects within the realm of politics. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Professor in the realm of constitutional law, reinforces this. He says “freedom properly understood consists not simply in the satisfaction of whatever preferences people have but also in the chance to have preferences and beliefs formed . . . after exposure to a sufficient amount of information as well as an appropriately wide and diverse range of options”. According to Suntein, freedom of media is not the inability to view something from all facets and ranges, as it can provide a lens by which excludes any element of truthfulness and reasoning, further dividing opposing sides.
Today, as we barrel on to the future, uncertain as to what it may hold, there comes the question as to how to relieve this ailment that is tearing apart the United States bit by bit. The answer lies in a few concepts. One of these is the priority of perspective. As elaborated before, polarization is never as great as many believe within their own bias, so viewing an ideology from another’s point of view is necessary to promote communication and understanding.
Additionally, with this knowledge in mind, it will make it easier to be able to relate this concept with that of our very own democratic system in progress. Take, for example, the stimuli packages. Both parties seem to prefer the Octagon than the Senate Floor when discussing this, even when wanting relatively the same thing. This is a direct result of the illusioned hate each one views relative to one another. Both sides viewed that the other would not budge an inch, and would only want one extreme. As a result of this, neither side would budge an inch, and would only want one extreme, but only in fear of falling into the subjectivity of the other side’s ‘radicalized bias’. As causation, the democracy that America was built around was completely unprepared for this mistreatment of the branches of government and illusions of extreme sides as projected today.
 Philips, Tim. “America’s Divided Mind: Understanding the Psychology That Drives us
Apart”. Beyond Conflict Beyond Conflict, LLC. September 24, 2020.
 Dorst, Kevin. “Why Polarization Has Skyrocketed?”, Psychology Today, Psychology Today, Co. September 20, 2020.
 Putnam, Robert D. “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” New York Times, Wayback Machine. October 10, 2020.