Why Politics Are So Divisive

Ask your neighbor, your friend, your co-worker, or your kid what America’s biggest problem is, and you’ll hear that politics have become too divisive.

The exacerbation of this division is a recent development; though stark political divisions have always been around, these divisions have never been so pervasive, in every conversation from politics, to education, to mass-shootings: never have the adherents of opposing political opinions been so intransigent, emotional, prejudiced, irrational…

This modern political division probably began in the late-1960’s when ABC ran a series of debates between William Buckley and Gore Vidal, two ideologues on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Their arguing made for great television, and the networks realized the money potential of giving ideologues screen time. (The documentary, Best Of Enemies, about the Buckley-Vidal debates and the impact the debates have had on political discourse, is on Netflix.)

Maybe I can argue that these ideological divisions were tense before these debates, that this is why the debates were so successful, because these divisions were already in the heads of the public. Or, that the Buckley-Vidal debates didn’t have as large of an impact as the documentary suggests, that current political divisions parallel the growth of the Federal Government – as population size grows so does the number of opinions, and with stakes being higher at the national level, the major parties (or factions within them) cling to ideological fundamentals to resist broad changes at the national level.

Regardless the inception of the division, the division is here, and it is pervasive. Even if someone sabotaged Fox News and MSNBC and both these Manipulators of Opinion were excised from existence, we’d still have headlines like:

“Bernie Sanders’ Fiction-filled Campaign” – Washington Post

“Watch Tommy Chong’s Pro-Sanders Video” – The LA Times

“Ted Cruz’s New Anti-Choice Group Is Headed By a Guy Who Thinks Abortion Caused the Drought” – Mother Jones

“For Hillary Clinton, Feminism Means ‘Blame Men First’, and to Disagree is ‘Misogyny'” – The National Review


Even if we disregard the blatantly-subjective headlines, major media still front-page stories catered to specific sets of opinions:

“US Warships Sail Close to Island Claimed by China” – The Wall Street Journal

“Labor Leaders Fear Trump’s Appeal With Rank and File” – The NY Times

It seems reasonable to think that without the Buckley-Vidal debates, chances are our politics and media would be just as divisive, as an inevitable outcome of mass-communication technology: everybody loves to hear their own opinions being affirmed (Confirmation Bias), and with so many media outlets now able to reach millions, media are more able to cater to specific opinions without alienating their readerships.

Viewed this way, divisive political discourse wouldn’t disappear by castrating talking-heads, demagogues, and party-fringes, because… The Internet – we choose to have our biases confirmed, and it’s easy for us to do so.



One comment

  1. davekingsbury · January 31, 2016

    What happens when the admen take over, I guess …


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