Sunny is a Senior at NASH who is writing for the Uproar for the second and final year. As one of three Editors-in-Chief, Sunny hopes to inspire the rest of the Uproar's staff to go outside the box with wacky, yet well-constructed works. Outside of writing for the Uproar, Sunny enjoys aiding, guiding, and competing for the Speech and Debate team as one of two event leaders for Interpretation.
Opinion: United in Our Division
Despite how polarizing America's political climate has come, it can be easy to forget how the people's ambitions--in their purest forms--are mutual.
January 10, 2023
Division, tension, and conflict seem like certainties in 21st century America. But with a new year underway, a question must be raised: is the path of animosity the only way? Or perhaps it’s about time we recognize that in the midst of all the hatred, America still remains united in its humanity.
Has the country degraded itself into such a complex web of grudges and toxic competition that we have forgotten just how similar we are? Have Americans forgotten that within the chains of polarizing news articles, social media, and politics, they still all hold the same desires–to live a life of prosperity, to protect the ones they hold dear, and to embrace the gift of being human?
As a matter of fact, it is because we feel so strongly bound to these human desires that we have divided ourselves to such an extreme degree.
The Basis of Division
Truthfully, it’s unlikely that division could have ever been stopped, and that doesn’t just apply to America. Arguably, humanity itself has been divided ever since society as a concept was formed in the first place. The very idea of the struggle between different classes of people, which would eventually evolve into conflicts involving more complex issues (ideologies, religions, nationalism, etc.), was an inevitable source of friction from the beginning.
As for America, its political divide really shouldn’t be as surprising as it appears. Although the country may seem polarized today, it’s really just how America has always been. Even in the earliest days of the nation, there were major disagreements over the Constitution and how the country would be structured–either having a strong central government or giving all power to the individual states.
From then on, the political climate within America has been a constant shift between stability and chaos, but no matter the conditions, the country has never truly “united.” Political division has always existed, just on varying degrees of intensity. America just happens to be in one of those more intense periods today.
Humans are bound to have different opinions. But then why does today’s division seem so toxic?
As discovered in a study by Eric Plutzer and Michael Berkman, two members of the McCourtney Institute For Democracy at Penn State, Democrats continue to accuse Republicans of being “uneducated and misguided people guided by what the media is feeding them,” while Republicans claim that all Democrats are “brainwashed by the propaganda of the mainstream media.”
The shocking similarities of these two accusations are not a coincidence; they both stem from the same source of paranoia–the struggle between “good” and “evil,” and the truth behind “the truth.”
To the most extreme Republicans, a communist, satanic, woke warrior of a Democrat who wants to purge the country of all traditional values is the epitome of evil. For the extreme Democrat, on the other hand, evil is synonymous with those fascist, segregationist, bigoted Republicans who want to violently push back all the progress the country has made.
But while both sides accuse the other of different crimes, when purely examining the essence of what they are fighting against, it’s clear they are essentially battling the same enemy–perceived evil.
Good vs. Evil
Almost everyone has at least heard the theory that good and evil are human-generated concepts, but whether they truly understand what said idea entails is a different story.
This problem between warring perceptions is, ironically enough, easier to solve in authoritarian nations. In countries such as North Korea, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, China, and many others, what’s “good” and “evil” is almost entirely dictated by the law. Whatever the government decides is what the citizens must follow, leading to varying degrees of satisfaction.
However, in a country like America, where people are allowed to constantly call for government reform and change in legislation, the lines between good and evil are inevitably going to get muddy.
Perhaps the most significant current issue that illustrates the struggle between good and evil is the debate over abortion rights and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
It’s no secret that Republicans and Democrats (and other right-wing or left-wing parties) have constantly been at each other’s throats over this issue, but what is the fundamental reason behind such a toxic opposition?
Republicans tend to be “pro-life” or in simpler terms, generally opposed to the idea of an abortion. While the source of their arguments can stem from either secular and (or) scientific or religious reasoning, the general agreement among the pro-life camp is to prioritize the rights and safety of the unborn child. Others, including former candidate for Senator in PA, Mehmet Oz, believe that abortion constitutes murder.
Democrats, on the other hand, are generally “pro-choice” and support the idea of abortion. Typically, those who are pro-choice will argue under secular terms, but some can base their points on religion as well. Common arguments usually revolve around both the rights and safety of those who seek an abortion, as pregnancies can come with various complications. In extreme cases, some complications can be deadly.
There are countless other arguments and nuances within this debate, but ultimately, when looking at both sides on the most basic terms, all arguments proceed down the same path.
Republicans see abortion as a deadly crime . They see an act of evil. But Democrats see abortion as a human right and a means to prevent disaster (or even death). They see an act of good. Republicans see Democrats as promoters of evil, while Democrats see Republicans as oppressors of good, so they fight.
But even if they don’t realize it, both sides really want the same thing–to do what’s good, and to stop evil forces. They not only think they are in the right; they also want to do what they believe is right.
Being aware of this identicality in people’s motivations and way of thinking may not necessarily allow for automatic sympathy or forgiveness towards an opponent, but it can at least help opponents build an understanding of each other’s motivations. Perhaps such a tiny spark of mutual awareness may be just enough to stop such extreme incidents and move towards more constructive solutions.
America is a country of free speech. There is no ultimate judge; good and evil can be interpreted in different ways. What ultimately does matter is whether Americans can understand and accept that one’s own perception is just that–a perception, and not a hard truth.
Logos vs. Pathos and the Struggle for Truth
There is an interesting variable contributing to the division of America–the debate over the truth.
It is inevitable that some political publications will be sugar-coated in inaccuracies, manipulation, deception, or sometimes even outright fabrication and (or) malice. Part of the problem ties back into the struggle between good and evil.
In the eyes of political rivals, stretching the truth, overusing pathos, and creating toxicity (whether directly or indirectly) are all for “the greater good.”
Right now, a multitude of issues are being warped by both sides of the political aisle, and possibly the most heated and unstable of them all are the issues involving minority groups.
On October 21st, 2022, MediaVSReality published an article expressing frustration over the “woke” movements in America and their alleged ignorance of conditions and civil rights outside of the nation.
The biggest problem with this article is its ignorance on what the “woke” movements are actually about–both originally and currently.
The term “wokeness” originally revolved around the African-Americans in the United States who faced oppression long before the Civil Rights Movement. By 2014, the term had become widespread as a result of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Keep in mind that this movement, and the term “woke,” were largely American affairs within its borders. It was weighted much more in terms of domestic issues than foreign ones.
While MediaVSReality’s article can’t be called a complete lie, it’s definitely questionable in terms of its relevancy and honesty. The main problem is simply the fact that their argument over the unawareness of the woke movements doesn’t line up with what many woke people are actually advocating for.
Perhaps it’s time that people realize the possibility that their opponents may not lie out of malice after all.
It wouldn’t make sense for a movement sparked in response to attacks on Black people–and other minorities–within America to be heavily concerned on issues outside of the nation, yet MediaVSReality still berates the woke community for this.
They do claim that woke Americans never think “to look at the world beyond their own borders and their own culture,” and while that could be a potential issue, they have no data to back it up. But even if there was evidence provided, it still isn’t exactly relevant to criticize a group largely focused on domestic issues of being ignorant of foreign problems.
Ultimately, what this article has done–intentionally or not–is spin the narrative in a way to make the woke movements look bad for reasons that aren’t so justified. MediaVSReality claims that woke Americans believe that minority issues in America apply across the entire world, and then makes arguments that easily refute that claim as if it were a legitimate truth. The problem is that their claim isn’t true, and that woke movements aren’t focused heavily on woke issues outside of the United States.
However, this is certainly not a one-way street. The tactic of bringing irrelevant information to distract readers from the truth is something the political left is just as guilty of.
Take the issues surrounding the integration of transgender athletes–most notably transgender women–into competitive sports. Obviously, all people–regardless of their gender identity–should be respected and accepted, or at the bare minimum, not actively discriminated against.
An article written by Chase Strangino and Gabriel Arkles, two members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on April 30th, 2020, does a good job of outlining the negative effects of excluding trans athletes from competitive sports. But the article fails to properly address a central argument that opponents hold, dodging counterarguments by introducing issues that are–while relevant on a broader spectrum–unrelated to the problem at hand.
The problem that opponents possess with the integration of trans athletes is the idea that transgender women may have an unfair advantage over cisgender women, due to biological differences within the body.
On March 27, 2022, CBS News reported on this debate, collecting statements from Dr. Michael Joyner, a physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Joyner reported on the results of the testosterone levels of a trans athlete, Lia Thomas, stating how her “testosterone suppressants have indeed lowered her hormone levels down to those of cisgender women.”
However, Joyner also listed other variables that could not be reversed through hormone therapy. He stated, “Height’s probably not reversible, hand size, foot size. Some of the issues related to muscle mass, lung size, and other things probably are never gonna revert completely, if at all.”
Clearly, the process of integrating trans athletes is more complicated than one may assume. A balance must be reached in order to ensure that all women, both transgender and cisgender, are on an even playing field.
But the first section of the ACLU article claims that the idea that “the participation of trans athletes hurts cis women” is a “myth.” This wouldn’t be a problem if they presented clear evidence to back the claim. However, what they actually state is how excluding trans women could invite “gender policing that could subject any woman to invasive tests or accusations of being ‘too masculine’ or ‘too good’ at their sport to be a ‘real’ woman.”
While what the Strangino and Arkles state is certainly a real problem, it has nothing to do with the “myth” they are trying to disprove. The reason cisgender women could potentially be “hurt” is the possible unfair advantage that comes with biological differences in the body, and there is nothing addressing this legitimate concern in this first section of the article. While “reinforc[ing] stereotypes” is a dangerous side effect, it isn’t exactly a relevant counterargument to the “myth” in question.
The second section of the article claims to bust a similar falsehood: “Trans athletes’ physiological characteristics provide an unfair advantage over cis athletes.” However, the section leads with a paragraph discussing how trans women and girls “face discrimination and violence that makes it difficult to even stay in school.”
As painful as it may be to hear, this is simply a calculated use of pathos to boost readers’ sympathy. While discrimination and violence are absolutely unacceptable, the authors’ tactic holds very little water against the actual issue at hand–the potential unfair advantage.
This second section does eventually present a tenable point against the myth the authors claimed to disprove, but the problem is that it only came after a paragraph of distracting information that dodged the real point of relevance.
Both articles are guilty of dishonest strategies — whether that be an excessive use of pathos, a lack of evidence for extremely bold claims, exaggerated vocabulary (which will be touched on in the next section), seemingly supporting information that isn’t relative to the topic that was presented, or even straw man arguments.
So why do these articles bend the truth?
It’s possible that MediaVSReality’s article was genuinely written out of a fear that Woke Americans will subvert the values of other populations–an act that could be viewed as evil. Therefore, it is possible (but not certain) that the authors chose to bend reality for the sake of the greater good.
The same can apply to the ACLU article, where the authors saw the exclusion of trans athletes as an act of evil, so they employed distracting information and pathos as a defense.
But again, both sides are manipulating their audiences for the same reasons, and perhaps it’s time that people realize the possibility that their opponents may not lie out of malice after all. Such a recognition may ease some tension, and perhaps, gradually, the incentive to lie can be reduced.
However, the good vs. evil conundrum is only one of two major explanations for the division in America. The second ties into a much greater issue that has acted as a major catalyst for the division of America (and by extension, the world)–the incentive for profits.
The Profitability of Division
While there were many factors that contributed to the intensification of divisions in the mid to late 2010s, some major catalysts were the skyrocketing popularity of social media and the boom in activity of online journalists.
It’s no secret that controversy generates waves of attention. Even MediaVSReality’s article, which was posted on a relatively small site, Medium, still managed to obtain over 5,000 upvotes (or “claps,” as the site calls it). Politicians, online newsletters and independent journalists realize this, and some of them use controversy as a tool for self-gain.
Some individuals will go to any lengths for virality and profit, even if that means taking dishonest or deceptive measures.
While there are plenty of people who genuinely want to advocate their perspectives, others do so partially, sometimes entirely, out of a profit incentive. Politicians will often fill their speeches and publications with the most sensitive and exaggerated vocabulary.
An example of this is an ad created by former candidate for governor in Michigan Garrett Soldano on June 15th, 2022. In response to a movement for trans activism in school sports, Garrett referred to allies of the movement as “the woke groomer mafia.”
There is always the possibility that Soldano’s word choice was genuine and that he truly believed in what he said. But with such wildly radical terms–essentially accusing an entire movement of being a group of criminals who want to manipulate and abuse children–there is a greater chance that his terms were chosen in order to radicalize unsuspecting viewers.
The more radicalized supporters become, the more they will want their source of information to protect them. But protection requires action, and action requires money. As a result, these radicalized individuals are bound to send thousands of dollars to a politician who used carefully crafted language to win their support. As it turns out, Soldano collected almost $250,000 in public funds.
On the other side of the spectrum, opponents will become enraged by this kind of exaggeration, immediately prompting them to share the ad with other opponents. However, this kind of excessive sharing only allows the advertisement to generate more money and attention.
Such profit-driven actions are not isolated to campaigns and advertisements. Journalists know how well controversy sells, and news anchors and newspapers will only help promote said controversy, generating even more revenue.
Are these situations truly a long chain of coincidences? Or are these sneaky tactics to appeal to viewers’ and readers’ emotions simply utilized to generate money and clout, which can then be invested into even greater efforts for self-gain? While situations can vary case by case, there are more than a few that are not originating out of an urge to fight perceived evil, but rather an incentive for wealth and popularity.
Nevertheless, there is a blatant weakness to this strategy for self-gain; it cannot stand without the support of the people. Controversy only sells because audiences are easily triggered and threatened. But if the people can see the forces of good and evil as relative terms, rather than definitive ones, they would be much less susceptible to diabolical pathos and radicalization.
A Small Step Towards Unity
Does a shared goal justify manipulative rhetoric? Are petty, toxic, and destructive attacks passable? Is lying for the sake of the perceived greater good acceptable?
Of course not. But understanding exactly what a purported enemy’s incentive ultimately stems from is.
Everyone–regardless of their political stance–wants a good life for themselves and their loved ones, and in their eyes, a good life cannot come with evil forces plaguing it.
An opponent–behind all the distortions–simply has a different interpretation of the values we all share. Those values should be better realized so that the toxicity of today can transition into the constructive dialogue of tomorrow. Otherwise, the only ones who will benefit are those who abuse the truth and create controversy for profit.
Perhaps that simple thought can at least act as a small push towards what this nation should aspire to be: The United States of America.