Common Ground Key to Productive Debate

Annette Ungermann, News Editor

Midterm season is fully, unflinchingly, upon us. Rumblings of the upcoming November 6 elections have trickled their way into my news feed, social media, mailbox full of local politicians’ brochures, and the omnipresent picketed lawn signs that divide my neighbors into 2 nearly indistinguishable camps of the town council or fire district supporters.

With this inundation of information, most of it combative, I’ve grown tired of sorting ideologies into inherently partisan groups that turn political involvement and education into a glorified game of matching.

It’s difficult to get away with being disengaged or dispassionate with both local and national– even international –politics at this point in the year. A culture of anger seems to be not only driving but dragging political agendas to encourage discomfort in constituents and use it as a power source to propel voters to the polls.

Certainly, the over 300 juniors and seniors that preregistered to vote on September 24-25 at Campolindo are familiar with the push to inspire Millenials and Generation Z to engage in an effort to counteract the combative polarization that exhausts many current voters.

While this push for democratic involvement in this youngest generation is far from disheartening, the culture that continues to sort individuals into ironclad camps requires serious dismantling before this push for political involvement can be regarded as wholly positive.

This push for political involvement has grown self-aware of the polarizing nature of partisan politicking and does attempt to address this real issue. However, it does so unsuccessfully, resorting to accusatory statements about the partisan nature of either opposing side’s political agenda– an ironic twist that simply reveals how partisanship and politics are embedded and interwoven in our national fabric.

Case in point: Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation was a drawn-out circus. It called for Christine Blasey-Ford’s raw testimony of sexual assault that was promptly picked apart. Politicians weakly backtracked into a joke of an FBI investigation that did little to change institutionalized expectations of how sexual assault survivors are delegitimized in moments of unfathomable vulnerability.

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, member of the Judiciary Committee, illustrated the deep irony at the heart of partisan politics today. “What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020,” he said, topping his statement off with another generalization about Democrats: “Boy, y’all want power. God, I hope you never get it.”

Graham ultimately fell flat, as a partisan himself, blind and angry at other politicians for expressing similar degrees of partisanship. At the core of such cutthroat political debate is a deep denial that both sides very much play a part in holding up the system they claim they want to dismantle.

On a national stage, we are certainly privy to the loudest voices that pull the most political weight and exacerbate this divide, which both seek to proclaim– uncontestedly –that either side does not truly represent the “people.” And to that point, both sides are partially correct. The most piercing perspectives and projected political divide are certainly present and seep into our culture. Yet it’s not entirely correct to assume that a stark, clear-cut divide is truly representative of greater American society.

Far more true is the idea that polarization affects our political environment more than is warranted.

A recent report by More in Common, an international initiative that sets it sights on “building communities and societies that are stronger, more united and more resilient to the increasing threats of polarization and social division” reinforces this idea. The report, “Hidden Tribes of America,” breaks up Americans into 7 groups, rather than the 2 camps we’re trained to see politically. The scale provides a full spectrum from left to right, from devoted to traditional to passive to disengaged.

Interestingly enough, though maybe unsurprising, the report defines 2/3 of Americans as “the exhausted majority,” and 61% agree that they need to listen and respond more. Just 6% of all Americans fall into the category of “Devoted Conservatives,” while 8% fall into the camp of “Progressive Activists.” Both extreme groups are not only the most active and furthest apart ideologically, but also the wealthiest.

What this report attempts to communicate is what is very much missing from projected politics and individualized news feeds. We’re made to pinpoint the opposition, to play off of hostility that’s most often projected. When only the most extreme feel heard, all others feel lost in the shuffle and forced to pick an arbitrary side.

I don’t want to turn the clock back to a time that perhaps looked less outwardly fragmented. We should instead simply begin to practice what we preach as well as learn to recognize our partisan tendencies for what they are– ingrained but not impossible to overcome.

If we continue to view national debate about polarization and partisanship as a debate, we grow to expect a winner where there really isn’t one. Competition is in the very nature of politics, yes, but we lose the very things which we fight for– legitimacy, recognition, voice –when division is at the heart of how we organize ourselves.

For a vote or voice to really matter extends past submitting registration or filling out a ballot. How we continue to hold discourse with one another and find commonalities will truly determine the political future of our generation and beyond.