The polarization of American politics needs to change

By Joe Frank


When George Washington gave his Farewell Address in 1796, he warned the nation of the danger of political factions.

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”

Washington stressed that when one party holds power over another, the party in power will use its political leverage to punish the opposing party. This nature of revenge leads to a cycle where each party, once it gains power, will bash down on its rivals.

Despite Washington’s warning as he left the presidency, America has had a multiple-party system for almost its entire history. In the country’s current state, the two main political parties are more polarized than ever, and the current Congress is one of the least effective in our nation’s history. This is largely because politicians from both parties act more and more along party lines.

For our republic to work as it should, we cannot discuss politics only among those who agree with us, and we cannot simply yell at those with whom we disagree. When we just reaffirm our own beliefs when we talk with people who share our positions, we feel reassured but progress is not made. The problems our country faces will not be remedied by the confirmation our own beliefs. They will not be remedied by shouting matches or name-calling. They will not be remedied when one side is beat into submission. They will be remedied when American citizens, including politicians, listen to the other side of the debate and find compromises.

Not many politicians will take the time to discuss issues with those who disagree with them, but thankfully that is not always the case. Last September, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke at Liberty University, a Christian school where many do not hold the same views as him. Both the students and faculty of the school, as well as Sanders, met to try to cross the line drawn by political factions in our modern society.

In Sanders’ speech, he noted that, “Too often in our country – and I think both sides bear responsibility for us – there is too much shouting at each other … We go out and we talk to people who agree with us. But it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

While it is difficult for politicians and everyday citizens to hold discussions with respect toward opposing sides, it is the only way problems will be solved with long term solutions. It is the only way to move past the cycle of revenge Washington warned about.

One step toward curtailing political polarization would be Democratic debates held by Fox News, a news network that often favors Republican views. The Republicans have crossed the lines of media bias more than the Democrats this election season, as the Republicans have had debates on both CNN and CNBC, two channels that have been accused of liberal biases. Debates that mix political views are factors that would help remove the division between political parties.

It is the role of the people, as much as it is the obligation of politicians, to reach across the aisle and learn about other people’s beliefs. When we accept other people’s ideas as valid, even when we do not agree, we will be more likely to solve the problems that face us.


Joe Frank is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]