We, as Americans, cherish the freedom and right to disagree—which we do, often deeply about important issues that need resolution. But polarization undermines that freedom by tightening prejudices rather than opening thought, thus diminishing the chances for finding resolutions and moving forward. So while polarization may feel like a righteous champion of freedom and right, it is in fact just the opposite—a stick jammed in the spokes of the democratic discourse of freedom. Here are some of the common ways it does it:
- SEDUCES with loaded, heated language and childish name-calling that appeals more to emotion that reason.
- BLINKERS by using cherry-picked facts, and ignoring or mocking opposing arguments and evidence rather than actually addressing them.
- TRIVIALIZES by focusing on “straw-man” issues whose value in re-enforcing biases is clearly greater than their substance.
- BULLIES by making you feel like a dupe or a traitor if you even listen to the other side.
- FLATTERS with language and a tone that makes you feel like an insider, who, of course, agrees with them because you “get it” … just like they do.
- FRIGHTENS by portraying the other side as not just wrong, but a dangerous, evil enemy, replete with wicked hidden agendas.
- “CLANS,” that is, plays the “us vs. them” identity politics game of associating the other view with groups or people (implicitly) “inferior” to “us.”
- “TRIBES” by using the knowing winks and nods of sarcasm, coded language, words in quotes (suggesting they’re misleading) and innuendo which you, as a member of the tribe, of course, will understand without explanation or justification.
This week . . . the beat goes on. Loaded language, straw man issues, bullying, flattering, finger pointing from the right…the left…the right…the left…right…left…right…left… It’s easy to dismiss it as is just politics as usual. But to do so means we’ve accepted this childish game as the acceptable normal. But it is not acceptable because politics is no child’s game. It is where citizens meet to hash out our deepest disagreements – and in doing so literally create the society, the civilization that we and our children will live in. Of course we disagree. But instead of facing and seriously trying to understand and resolve those disagreements like responsible adults, polarizers whine and whimper and shout “faker” “cheater” “boogeyman,” thus widening the gap of disagreement, incrementally moving from political conflict to potentially something far more dangerous, destructive and irrevocable. How do we change this trajectory? Step one: Stop shouting and start listening like your life depends on it. Because it does.
When reading these examples, check the above list and ask yourself: regardless of whether you agree or disagree, is this really advancing an intelligent resolution through the persuasive, rational arguments of advocacy…or simply fueling the fire of conflict through the divisive, emotional manipulations of polarization?
Here are some of the week’s most polarizing articles, from the left and right: