Both sides to blame: The abuse of political labels
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The 2016 presidential election, which has gone down as one of the most bizarre and divisive elections in recent American history, has finally come to an end. Still, the country continues to face political unrest as the bitterness on both sides of the political spectrum fails to subside. Protests and marches were held across the country for several days after the election in disapproval of the President-elect. Hate-crimes against minorities Trump has spoken out against throughout his campaign are also on the rise, with hundreds of reported incidents seen in the first 10 days following the election.
Whether or not Americans are in fact more staunchly divided politically now than in the past, we are certainly less shy about showing it. The conflict caused by this election was about more than just politics; it was personal. We told ourselves that the decision we faced was not between good politics and bad politics but between good and evil. When each side considersed the opposing candidate a grave threat to the country’s very moral framework, they began to wonder how any of their friends, family or neighbors could possibly support such a person. There is a multitude of factors that led to our situation, but there is one that prevents progress from even starting, and for which both sides are to blame: the abuse of political labels.
Political labels, when used properly, serve an important function. They are a convenient way for people with like-minded views to organize. When abused, however, they come with dangerous consequences, as seen in the current political climate. We no longer organize so that we can debate opposing viewpoints together; we do it to create an isolated political comfort zone where we only need to interact with people wearing the same label as ourselves. We have each chosen a party, studied its talking points and stuck our fingers in our ears. We gravitate toward the news channels and talk shows that reaffirm our viewpoints and shut out millions of other Americans as if they are a single entity, “democrat” or “republican.”
Party names become nothing but pejorative terms for the opposition. So widens the ideological disconnect that exists between one half of the American people and the other, each half believing the other is too far gone to compromise and the only option is defeat. Conservatives and liberals alike often confine themselves to their political party’s generic set of beliefs, which cover a range of issues far too diverse to define under a single rigid ideology.
When people feel they must wear a political label ,we stop putting effort into listening to each other’s individual views and instead just glance at the labels to declare enemy or ally. When a single political belief is used to predict a person’s entire set of views, it leaves all liberals to be viewed as out-of-touch and all conservatives as racist and sexist. This all-or-nothing approach is not only unhealthy for our interpersonal social life, but it significantly affects our own ability to make the right policy choices. Political labeling favors thoughtless decision making over rational, independent judgment for a given issue. Rather than focusing solely on the issue at hand, we often adopt the position of our “team” without serious consideration to the contrary positions. This discourages critical thinking and reasoning skills. It leaves us without the capacity to consider other people’s’ points of view, leading to an overall decrease in empathy for those that do not carry our label.
I am not suggesting to do away with political labels altogether, nor am I declaring it the sole cause of the divide our country is facing. Political labels should be used for their intended purpose, not as something to fall back on when we face a difficult decision that requires thoughtful reasoning. It is certainly easier to look to our team instead of reaching conclusions independently, but as we have seen, putting ourselves into a political bubble and separating ourselves from those with different labels eventually contributes to a bitter divide that will take a lot of hard work to mend.