There are many issues in American society that tend to be very polarizing. Abortion and gun control are two very divisive issues. Religion, particularly its role in public, is another big issue. The recent healthcare reforms also tend to be very polarizing. These and other hot-button issues can inflame quite a bit of emotion. It is no wonder that political discourse in America can be a bit of a minefield. The same is probably true in other countries.
The issue of climate change is a good example of how divided people can be on certain topics. According to one poll, about one-fourth of the people surveyed were skeptical about man-made climate change. This number has risen slowly but steadily over the years. About 39 percent were very concerned about climate change. Most of the rest held a combination of views. Amazingly, 100 percent of the people in the “believer” category viewed human activity as the primary cause of global warming. Meanwhile, 100 percent of the “skeptics” believed that global warming is mostly a natural phenomenon. To be fair, polls are never going to gauge the opinions of the entire population with total accuracy. Nevertheless, this poll shows how divided people can be on certain topics.
It is understandable that people tend to react strongly when confronted over their deeply held beliefs. Sadly however, much of the political discourse in America can become bogged down because of the ways in which people often attempt to “discuss” things. Besides the obvious partisan bickering that goes on, one of the major problems is a tendency for some people to try to shut down the opposing views. People from both political parties in America tend to do this at times. This problem is also not limited to politics. The goal seems to be to discredit an opposing group without having to seriously consider their beliefs. Of course, this might not always be done intentionally. Regardless, it is a major hindrance to open and honest discussion.
One of the major ways in which some people attempt to shut down opposing views is by attacking the people who hold those views. This is, of course, fairly common practice. Often, the worst people among a group are highlighted and the assumption seems to be that everyone else in that group behaves in a similar fashion.
The issue with this is that people are individuals. They have a wide variety of beliefs and many reasons for holding said beliefs. There does seem to be a certain amount of “group-think” that goes on. Nevertheless, attempting to make generalities about an entire group can backfire.
For example, one article from last week talked about the supposed racism of Republicans and libertarian-leaning people. To be sure, there probably are racists in these groups, but in any group that includes large numbers of people, there will probably be those who cannot stand people who are different from themselves. To imply that all or most conservatives and libertarians are like this seems rather silly. However, in many cases, the point of such tactics seems to be to discredit the opposition without having to engage them on the actual issues. That is not to say that racism does not exist. It is certainly a very major problem. Yet it sometimes seems as if the issue of race is used as a political tool or weapon.
Political discourse in America can get very nasty. If people want to have meaningful improvement, then all parties involved need to stop smearing each other, stop engaging in angry rhetoric, and focus on the issues.
Opinion By Zach Kirkman