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These Six Tactics Are Being Used to Divide Republicans and Democrats

Jessica Carpenter Originally published on AllSides.com. This blog is in collaboration with AllSides, a nonpartisan media group focused on strengthening our democratic society with balanced news, media bias ratings, diverse perspectives, and real conversation. 86% of Americans say they feel exhausted by division and are looking for something better. 85% of Republicans and Democrats view cross-party relations, such as having members of the other party as friends, building consensus, and supporting bipartisan cooperation, as valuable.  These are stats that you probably don’t hear that often. That’s because they’re competing with information that is far more emotionally evoking than the idea that most Americans want constructive politics. In the midst of political division in the country, stats like this are useful to paint a hopeful picture of our political future and plant seeds of curiosity within the American people. Unfortunately, this isn’t the way we are being communicated the nature of our politics today. More often than not, we are subject to polarizing tactics that help to further divide us. Polarizing tactics are methods that different entities use to sow distrust between groups and influence public perception of people, ideas or policies. What’s more is, it pays to divide! Whether it be from politicians looking to appease their base and get donations, the media seeking to increase revenue and engagement, or political commentators and influencers looking to get more air time, the market for division is booming. We’re going to talk about some of their tactics today! Here are six polarizing tactics to be on the lookout for. 1. Generalizations First up, we have generalization. Generalizations are statements used to paint entire groups of people under one broad umbrella. Generalizations can be intentional and unintentional. By generalizationing an entire group, we remove room for nuance and diversity among people, opinions and concepts.  For example, much of the dialogue around Republicans and abortion revolve around the idea that “Republicans want to ban all abortions” which was further ratified with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent six week abortion ban. While the Republican party strongly favors pro-life initiatives, the Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies (PORES) and SurveyMonkey released a survey last year showing more Republicans in favor of exceptions for abortion, such as in cases of rape or incest (76%) and when the mother’s life is in danger (86%). Only 16% of Republicans say abortion generally should be “illegal in all cases”. In 2019, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel said, “Democrats have chosen to go down the road to socialism.” Broad-stroking Democratic plans as “socialist” discounts ideas that could be used as foundations for finding common ground and removes the opportunity for discussion across the aisle. Political groups are not ideological monoliths. Individuals within different political, racial, cultural and religious groups don’t always share the same view on topics. This is why it’s important to talk to each other! 2. Us-vs-Them This polarizing tactic is one of the most common in politics. The us-vs-them approach is the tendency to view the world in terms of an ingroup (“us”) and an outgroup (“them”). By creating this idea of separation and suggesting that other groups are different from us or against us, it causes us to have a stronger sense of identification with our own group and a stronger dislike for the “other” group. We can feel the need to build ourselves up by identifying ways we’re better than the other group(s). In politics, think of this tactic as another way of saying “it’s their fault.”  This PragerU video perfectly demonstrates the us-vs-them approach while discussing the topic of teaching sexual identity in schools. The speaker paints “them” referring to progressive Democrats as crazy while also saying she is “one of you”, the viewers. This generalizes progressive Democrats as all wanting to teach second graders about sexual identity, but it goes further than assuming that all progressive Democrats believe a certain idea. The video villainizes those who believe children should be taught about sexual identity as wanting to confuse and corrupt children, and instills fear that they’re coming for you.  President Biden also has his fair share of us-vs-them messaging. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden administration released statements pitting unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals against each other. “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said. “And it’s caused by the fact that…we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot…That 25 percent can cause a lot of damage — and they are.” By referring to the COVID-19 pandemic as the “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, he sews disapproval and disdain for individuals who didn’t get vaccinated (“them”) and creates a stark sense of division between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. The us-vs-them tactic distracts us from the issue or topic at hand, which in turn prevents us from being able to constructively discuss with each other and build solutions.  3. Strawmanning Imagine bringing your hottest political argument up to debate with a scarecrow. That’s where this next polarizing tactic gets its name. Strawmanning is the logical fallacy of distorting an opposing position into an extreme version of itself  to make it easier to argue against.  How a scarecrow (or straw man) is a fake representation of a person, so is a straw man argument. Here are some examples: “I am pro-choice.” “So, you condone murder.”  “I am pro-life.” “So, you want to control womens’ bodies.” These are examples of strawmanning because almost no one would say they agree with murder or say that the goal of restricting abortion is to control women. These are reductions of the pro-life and pro-choice arguments that make it easy to reaffirm the beliefs we already have, because the other side seems absurd. 4. All-or-Nothing The all-or-nothing approach is what it sounds like. It’s the assumption that you’re either with me or you’re against me. There is no middle ground between two polarities.  From my experience, this tactic is often a response to anger, frustration and/or feelings of injustice. It’s easy to feel the world pitted against you when you feel your voice is not being heard. Following the Uvalde school shooting on May 24 that left 21 dead, including 19 children, MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson went on air to say that “Republicans don’t care if your children die” and “any Democrat who doesn’t take that stance isn’t concerned about our kids either.” This example used both generalizations and all-or-nothing thinking.  This segment is [rightfully] fueled by anger that innocent children were killed while at school. Whether Johnson meant to divide or not, suggesting that Democrats who don’t agree with the statement “Republicans don’t care about children” also don’t care about children is an all-or-nothing approach to the discussion on gun violence. 5. Cherry Picking Cherry picking is the action or practice of taking only the beneficial or more emotionally enticing parts of what is available and responding to that. Many times this happens in online interactions or when discussing active legislation. A new study by KFF took a look at Americans’ experience with gun violence, and found that about half (54%) of all U.S. adults say they or a family member have experienced either gun-related violence, injury or death. Moreso, the study showed that one in five Americans say they had a family member killed by a gun, including suicide. By choosing only parts of this study to highlight, these stats can be used to tell multiple different stories, including why the U.S. needs stricter gun regulations or why the U.S. needs to prioritize mental health. That’s why it’s important to check sources and, when possible, cross-check the information you read. Without the full picture, we aren’t able to address issues constructively and come up with long-term solutions. 6. Whataboutism Last but not least, we have whataboutism.This tactic is used to respond to a claim or question with a counterclaim or question on an unrelated issue. It turns a discussion about a specific topic into one about teams by assuming the person on the other side agrees with all of the stances of the party they identify with.  This latest interview clip of Jon Stewart turning a discussion about drag queens into one on gun legislation is a good example. Many times instances like this are seen as “wins” or “owns” against a political opponent because it shows their supposed hypocrisy (which may not be hypocrisy to them, if you let them explain their reasoning), but it ultimately shuts down conversations because individuals are talking past each other. Conclusion Now that you have an idea of what tactics are being used to divide us, be on the lookout for different areas where they arise. It’s important to note that many of the examples I’ve used come from actual differences in opinion. I’m not saying these differences don’t exist, especially on topics like gun violence, sexual identity and abortion. But if we want to make progress on these topics and come to legislative solutions, we must make sure we are actually understanding the stances of both sides rather than making fallacious arguments that make us feel like we are winning. It’s easier and more profitable to divide than it is to build bridges among the American people. In the end, it’s us who lose when we aren’t solution-oriented. Until the incentives switch from profiting off our division to bringing people together, it’s important to learn how to detect different ways we are being divided.

How I Fought Isolation and Political Division During the COVID-19 Pandemic

How I Fought Isolation and Political Division During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hailie Addison The year is 2020. Some parts of the world were experiencing lockdowns and others were witnessing protests for change. I found myself using social media as a way to make sense of it all.  Prior to the pandemic, I had little interest in politics. But, as the global pandemic unfolded, it became impossible for any of us to avoid political discussions. Whether through social media platforms or within our own families, everyone seemed to be engrossed in conversations about Donald Trump, the handling of the pandemic, or the Black Lives Matter protests.  Suddenly, I had views on a variety of political topics. But I did not know what to do with them or how to navigate political discussions. I had tried engaging in Twitter threads and on Facebook posts but more often than not, I was called names and was told my views were “stupid” or worse. I even lost relationships I had with hometown friends and family members because they “couldn’t associate with someone who had my views.” As if the confusion and loneliness of the pandemic weren’t enough, experiencing a sort of political awakening amidst such circumstances somehow made the situation worse. But I wasn’t the only one experiencing this issue.  A survey in 2022 found that 42% of Gen Z young adults are diagnosed with a mental health condition, over half of which were diagnosed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another 40% of Americans said that politics were a source of significant anxiety, stress, insomnia, and even suicidal thoughts, with negative impacts more prominent in those who were young, politically engaged, or opposed to the government. The polarization of today’s politics is a driving factor for this statistic.  Because of polarization, politics has become hostile leading to heightened levels of stress and anxiety. In today’s political landscape, most people are only exposed to divisive rhetoric and heated debates with an end goal of short term political wins. Not only is this emotionally draining, it creates a sense of hopelessness and isolation.  So where do we go? Do we ignore political discourse and remove ourselves from the conversation all together? Or do we stay in our echo chambers where our views are the right answer and risk losing relationships with people we care about?  During my junior year of college, I was interning my school’s Civic Engagement Office and was required to attend a virtual event. One of the students on the call mentioned an organization called BridgeUSA and said they were working to fight polarization on college campuses. I did some of my own research on the organization and soon realized this was the answer to my problems. Their mission talked about constructive engagement, ideological diversity, and solution oriented politics. It was a movement for young people, led by young people.  After a call with the CEO, I got to work on building a team of my close friends to help me take on the issue of polarization on my campus. The first issue we tackled was COVID-19 rules and regulations. The five of us somehow managed to pull off a Q&A panel with SUNY Cortland Administrators and Cortland officials (including the mayor and the dean). Next thing I knew, I had emails and texts flooding my phone asking how other students could get involved.  A year later I had formed a community of 40 students who all felt the same way I did about politics. Some of them had stories of being isolated from their families due to their political beliefs. Others were too afraid to speak up in class because they were worried about judgment from their peers and professors. Some had lost friends due to political arguments. But because of BridgeUSA, we were all able to come together and share those experiences and share our beliefs without judgment.  I have met some of my best friends through BridgeUSA, some of those people have completely opposite views as me. And although I may not agree with those views, we accept each other for who we are and not for what we believe in. We are willing to have hard conversations but respect one another enough to listen and walk away from those conversations with understanding and empathy.  Now, I work for BridgeUSA. I am honored to contribute to the establishment of communities akin to the one that once supported me. Each day, I have the privilege of engaging with students who share similar stories to mine and possess a desire for the very things I was looking for. The solution that we collectively advocate for is a community where individuals from all political backgrounds can come together, engage in constructive conversations and be accepted. That community is BridgeUSA. The BridgeUSA at SUNY Cortland team at the Student Summit in 2022.

Why We Disagree on “Truth” in 2023 and How We Can Change That

Why We Disagree on “Truth” in 2023 and How We Can Change That

Jessica Carpenter Originally published on AllSides.com. This blog is in collaboration with AllSides, a nonpartisan media group focused on strengthening our democratic society with balanced news, media bias ratings, diverse perspectives, and real conversation. In 2023, it’s not enough to just politicize ideas, people and identities. No, the newest frontier that politicization has seeped into is, in my opinion, far scarier, and it serves as the foundation from which all else is decided: the truth. On March 16, the Atlantic released a new analysis of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that the disease most likely originated within infected raccoon dogs being sold in a Wuhan market. This research comes almost two weeks after the U.S. Energy Department released their own findings that COVID-19 was most likely caused by a laboratory leak. To proponents of the lab leak theory, the findings by the Energy Department confirm what they have been saying since 2020. To those who dismissed that theory, the Atlantic story confirms their own belief that the outbreak came from natural roots. No matter which side you’re on, this type of discrepancy in what is “true” is dangerous and has been sinking into politics over the past few years, leading to disagreement on everything from COVID-19 and critical race theory to gun legislation and transgender issues.  This gap in understanding is then being exploited by some media outlets and political pundits to push different narratives and spread fear and disdain toward the other side, leading to increased political division, and preventing us from having conversations and working together to create meaningful solutions. To keep “truth” from becoming another political weapon, we must understand the different methods we each use to find truth and learn how understanding the differences between them can allow us to better understand each other. We first have to understand the difference between “truth” and “fact”. Fact is based on empirical research and quantifiable measures, meaning it can be tested, and proven through experience. Truth is the application of these facts, but is then mixed with our own beliefs or perceptions. Things like the media we consume, our social media feeds or the people we engage with can expose us to different facts and interpretations of events. Each of us then uses different methods of applying this information to form our own understanding of what is true and not.  There are four types of truth, and depending on which type we’re talking about, different thinking methods are applied to find that truth. The first is objective truth, which is what can be proven in physicality (ex. The sky is blue). Where fact is anything that can be tested, objective truth is the recognition of the reality created by fact. Normative truth is what a collective group agrees is true, for example a tree is a tree because that’s what we decided to call it. Normative truth can change between different cultures, geographic regions, religions and groups of individuals.  Third is subjective truth, which is based on one’s interpretation of facts or experiences. Subjective truth can’t be proven either right or wrong because it is based on one’s own perception of information or an event (many of us might remember the dress illusion from years ago that challenged our perception of color). For this reason, it can be easily mixed up with opinion. It is also a truth used often in politics. For example when President Biden says “The American Rescue Plan helped create nearly 10 million new jobs,” he is using an accurate number of 9.5 million jobs created since January 2021, but is also overlooking some conditions that laid the foundation for job growth before he took office and also the projected job growth that was already expected between 2021 and 2022. While the plan helped to create jobs, the other job growth is grouped in because it happened during his administration. The last method of finding truth is complex truth, and it is the application of any of the previous three according to which is most useful at the given time. All four truth methods provide us with multiple perspectives and are needed to understand different contexts. When used together, we are able to form a better understanding of reality. Because we are all working through different methods of deciding what is true, there is more room for disagreement, especially on definitions of words, pieces of fact and interpretations of experiences. We see this currently playing out in discussions across the country about transgender issues, where both normative and objective truth are being used to determine gender and sex; and abortion, where subjective, objective and normative truth are being used to decide if/when abortions should be allowed. Disagreements arise because we are speaking past one another and using different methods for determining truth, therefore we are unable to have in-depth conversations about different topics. Another reason we disagree on truth today is because we’ve thrown out the nuance that comes from different “truths”. Political discussions today force us to choose between one side or another and think along a binary, but we forget that two things can be true at once.  It can be true that about 4 in 10 U.S. women have experienced gender discrimination at work, and also true that men are falling behind in the workforce due to economic, social and cultural shifts. Another example: Statistically, 90% of Black Americans support initiatives to improve relations between police and their community, but that doesn’t change the fact that many of them also fear police encounters more than White individuals. These two can be true at once. Not to say any of this is good or bad, but when we take in information from different points of view along with our pre-existing experiences and perspectives, and allow room for nuance in our conversations, a broader reality comes into play. We find space for common ground and productive conversations. So, how do we fight the politicization of information and have conversations across our different understandings of truth?  Research information for yourself. Before re-sharing anything on social media, double check the information and the source. Many times, people online will take sound bites or facts out of context, and  users take that information at face value. By being conscious about what you are sharing you can ensure you are not sharing misleading information and you are leaving room for dialogue with those that may understand the same information differently. Expand your news diet! Try watching news coverage from a different outlet than your usual one. The AllSides Media Bias chart and balanced news is also a great resource for easily identifying different perspectives and political leanings in the news so you can get the full picture and think for yourself. Accept when the extent of your knowledge ends, and you start making assumptions based on your perspective. We can speculate over pieces of information as long as we want, but sometimes we just don’t know the whole story and it’s okay to admit that we don’t know all the facts, even in a culture that wants us to have an opinion on everything. Have conversations with people you disagree with. Gaining different perspectives is necessary to fight the politicization of “truth” and understand the broader picture, even if you don’t agree with their point of view.
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