By Emma Kaden
Recently, the political dialogue in the United States has devolved, as violence and harassment seem to be overtaking cordial discussion. Civility has gone out the window in favor of finger-pointing, and hostility runs rampant in any political debate. As politics have become more prominent in any and all conversations, viciousness has risen like a zombie from the dead. Rather than drilling straight to the core concepts that have caused more friction and dissonance, people are more willing to simply blame politicians. However, it’s important to remember that no single figure is responsible for the current issues the United States faces.
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, odds are you have some grievances about the political ideals you do not subscribe to. However, it’s important not to resort to ad hominem attacks. When people are unfairly blamed for causing the problems that plague our nation, the real cause of the problems is obscured, and no solution can ever be reached. This negative cycle is called “scapegoating.” The person blamed is the scapegoat, and all aggression is directed toward them:
“With society at risk of collapse, someone in the group is perceived as an outsider and is chosen as the party responsible for the chaos. All hostility is turned on the scapegoat, and social order is restored by uniting around the common cause of banishing it from the group or delivering the ultimate banishment: killing it.
Here’s the problem: scapegoating can only provide a temporary sense of contentment. Soon enough, rivalries flare up, a new scapegoat is chosen and exiled, and the cycle begins again.”
— “The Scapegoat Mechanism” by Kevin Lieber
As Lieber explains, satisfaction from the “banishment” of the scapegoat is only temporary. Hostility gives way to hostility, which gives way to more hostility, in an endless cycle of viciousness. How then, do we escape the mire of hatred and resentment? By finding the humanity in others:
“When human beings are not consumed by thoughts of differences and hate, they naturally connect with the humanity in others. As psychology professor Nour Kteily observes, “We have this incredible capacity for cooperation; it’s what makes us human in many ways. And yet we have this capacity for othering.”
Hatred begins when we dehumanize others. We lump individuals into a single homogeneous group. This other group becomes the target of hate when we believe ‘I am suffering because of them.’”
— “Socialism is Not Built on Compassion. It’s Built on Dehumanizing Others” by Barry Brownstein
Additionally, people’s animosity towards those with differing political views extends far beyond simply disagreeing with their beliefs. All too often, both sides of the political aisle make broad generalizations that aren’t always accurate. Unfortunately, this leads to a strong societal schism and prevents united solutions. If the United States was founded upon the ideal of “E pluribus unum,” then we have strayed far from our founding values. According to a study by Douglas J. Ahler from Florida State University and Gaurav Sood from Washington, DC, Americans assign stereotypes to members of political parties, especially if they belong to an opposing party.
“We document a large and consequential bias in how Americans perceive the major political parties: people tend to considerably overestimate the extent to which party supporters belong to party-stereotypical groups. For instance, people think that 32% of Democrats are LGBT (vs. 6% in reality) and 38% of Republicans earn over $250,000 per year (vs. 2% in reality). Experimental data suggest that these misperceptions are genuine and party specific, not artifacts of expressive responding, innumeracy, or ignorance of base rates. These misperceptions are widely shared, though bias in out-party perceptions is larger. Using observational and experimental data, we document the consequences of this perceptual bias. Misperceptions about out-party composition are associated with partisan affect, beliefs about out-party extremity, and allegiance to one’s own party. When provided information about the out-party’s actual composition, partisans come to see its supporters as less extreme and feel less socially distant from them.”
Bias and animosity between those with different views across the political spectrum continues to rise unabated. As more people take actions based upon their unfettered judgments, it becomes more important to find common ground and shared values. Rather than targeting people as the source of the nation’s foremost problems, we should try to better understand who these people really are. Stereotypes of or bias against members of a political ideology won’t solve America’s problems, and neither will scapegoating. If we want to build a brighter future for the United States, we must do our best to find the root cause of the problems at hand, rather than casting blame on others. We Americans must embrace the motto our Founding Fathers instituted—E pluribus unum—”out of many, one.”