In his first speech as president-elect, Joe Biden made clear his intention to bridge the deep and bitter divisions in American society. He pledged to look beyond red and blue and to discard the harsh rhetoric that characterizes our political debates.
It will be a difficult struggle. Americans have rarely been as polarized as they are today.
The studies we’ve conducted at Pew Research Center over the past few years illustrate the increasingly stark disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on the economy, racial justice, climate change, law enforcement, international engagement and a long list of other issues.
The 2020 presidential election further highlighted these deep-seated divides. Supporters of Biden and Donald Trump believe the differences between them are about more than just politics and policies. A month before the election, roughly eight-in-ten registered voters in both camps said their differences with the other side were about core American values, and roughly nine-in-ten – again in both camps – worried that a victory by the other would lead to “lasting harm” to the United States.
We hear and read across the media that the democrats are to blame, that the republicans are to blame, or that the president is to blame, etc. But who should bear the responsibility for the division in America? Is it China, is it our politicians or the laws that have been in place for years?
We only need to look at the violence that erupted in the Capitol weeks ago to see a physical display of the deep division in America.
The division that has happened in America this past year was centuries in the making. America had its set of problems, and it took a lot more than Donald Trump’s America to reach its boiling point. What people do not talk about was that America was founded on division.
Colonists came to the country and stole it from the Native people. They came to this land, took it from the Native Americans, told the Native Americans their customs are unsavoury, implemented genocide to the Native American people, and claimed this land is the land of the “free.” That same mindset followed the Founding Fathers’ creation of the American Constitution. While the first line, “We the People,” sounded nice, it didn’t include all people.
The Constitution’s main priority was protecting rich white men with property. They didn’t include women, people in a lower class, and they certainly didn’t include Black people (who were considered property at the time).
What is happening today in America is nothing but the fallout from the moment the first set of colonialists stepped foot on America’s soil. Trump’s America brought to light issues that have already existed. They existed long before the Obama, Bush, Clinton, Lincoln, or even the Washington administration.
Race tensions have always been an issue in America (there was a whole war based on it). The political division has been an existing issue since the Constitution’s conception (when there is a multiple party system, there is bound to be friction).
The only difference between America of today than America of yesterday is the issues that we thought were hidden are brought to the surface. Ultimately, there is no specific person or group of people to blame for America’s division because this division started at the very beginning
America was born out of a shared ideal of an American dream that folks from different walks of life could all believe in.
Social and cultural productions were watched and understood by most, if for lack of choice and access. The internet-enabled Americans to choose their own content, eroding shared popular culture to isolated islets on divergent paths.
Most Americans have seen their real earnings, and consequently their standard of living, plateau, and decline. The middle-class that believed in a prosperous future, and held moderate political views has dwindled to an increasingly embittered and desperate demographic living paycheque-to-paycheque. Barriers to education have risen while the necessity has grown substantially.
The profusion of lifestyles has altered the country’s course. From the previously alienated demographics asserting their political rights to women now expected to be not only working but primary breadwinners. Lifestyles that will never interact, nor listen to the same radio, follow same programs, share outlooks, or have peers with widely divergent worldviews.
Today, news caters to different audiences, emphasising different events. Celebrities for one demographic come and go without notice by another. The economic prospects of communities can be starkly contrasted via access to mobile devices in every hand. The collapse of the American middle class since 2008 shattered the dream. Disillusioned, disparate individuals fail to share mutual interest and commitment to any common good. Survival, rather than living, becomes increasingly stricken for many, leading to more estranged, self-absorbed in their own blinkered problems rather than committing to any longer-term future for society.
America seems to have forgotten what made her great: “all men are created equal”. A country founded by cast-outs in search of a better life. The civility grounded in respecting others’ life experiences was lost because of changes the 1913 16TH Amendment to the US Constitution enabled. Power was let loose. Individual’s income was no longer their own, but the state’s after “income tax”. What made America unique, she lost. Federal government runaway spending programmes bankrupted the freest, most prosperous society ever created. It turned a nation of entrepreneurs and go-getters into a nation dependent on the state for support. It has crushed hope, lowered prosperity through disincentivising profit through all levels of society. The “living Constitution” conjured up to justify amending a limit on power to a blank cheque failed to limit government power at all. A constitutional government that defines its own powers is a contradiction in terms.
The political splintering has just accelerated since the 1960-80s. It is nothing new. Two opposing camps with neat, easily summarised positions enjoy fervent support that cannot compromise. What ensued was chronic government gridlock, the tendency toward plurality and the inability of a winner-takes-all election that fails to adequately represent the divided views of most Americans. Trump was a symptom, not the cause, of decades of decay brought about by higher taxes that allowed for unconstrained federal spending.