America Divided: Causes and Cures

More than 90 percent of Newschannel 3 readers/viewers who participated in our online poll believe that America is divided. (WWMT graphics)

There are few things Americans can seem to agree on but most believe the U.S. is divided, according to polls and surveys. For every protest there seems to be a counter protest.

Among the Newschannel 3 viewers and readers who answered our informal poll, 92 percent said yes, America is divided.

Seven in 10 Americans say the country’s divide is as bad at the divisions during the Vietnam War, according to a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

Even if you put all that data aside, the divides can probably be seen on Facebook, at football games, even family dinner tables.

“With my family we've had arguments, it's kind of torn some families apart, which is unfortunate,” said Daniel Renee in Portage.

He now shies away from political conversations to avoid debates.

Nearly a year after President Donald Trump was elected. the challenge to orchestrate healthy conversations in the classroom has become increasingly difficult for Political Science Professor Justin Berry at Kalamazoo College.

“There is not much middle ground,” said Berry.

He added that the fractures in America started long before Trump took office. The divide in America has been deepening for decades, since the Civil Rights Movement.

Berry said, “We are at the end of the stage of a realignment that occurred since the 1960’s.”

Compared to then, even back to the Civil War era and in its aftermath during reconstruction.

Berry said, “We're more politically divided than we were in those period.”

Politics is pulling America apart. People are more partisan and ideas are more clearly sorted by party.

A recent study by Pew Research Center reveals Americans are more partisan and the data shows that since 1994 Americans have been scooting to toward opposite ends of the spectrum on party lines.

In 2017 there is less common ground.

The divisions between Republicans and Democrats reached record levels under former President Barack Obama and those gaps have grown even larger since President Trump took the White House.

To oversimplify the divide, it is Republicans against Democrats, red verses blue, and the purple area of common ground continues to shrink.

Berry sees two major issues at one of the central points in the split: race and class.

The two, often overlapping issues, he says the country has never really come together about.

“Amongst the right there’s this notion that racism is a thing of the past and thus we have achieved equality,” Berry said. “What that’s failing to understand is these historical structures that have been in place that have placed people at different levels of advantage.”

Globalization, increased immigration, and migration within the U.S. the country’s population is changing.

“An increasing number of whites will claim that they are, in fact, facing discrimination,” Berry said.

He does not think that discrimination is at all equal, in relative terms, the discrimination people of color face, but, Berry says, perception drives politics.

“There’s an element of society that feels like their position in America is being threatened.” Berry explained, “That position is their culture, their langue, their jobs.”

Simmering for decades, race and class, often overlapping issues, have brought the country to another boiling point.

An outspoken and nontraditional President, Trump is a factor in the divide, Berry said. “The language that's being used by the President is giving people free license to say things that they normally wouldn't have said in public.”

Beyond the issues, the internet is also a contributor. People write posts and comments that they probably would never say to a person’s face.

The good, the bad, and the ugly, it's all out there on the World Wide Web. Hate groups that once operated in the dark can now connect and organize online.

“Just because you don't like it, or agree with it, doesn't make it fake news,” said Sue Ellen Christian, Professor of Communication at Western Michigan University.

Not only are people more partisan, but research shows they’re watching more news that aligns with their political views.

Articles and opposing opinions are at are fingertips, but many of us live in our own bubble that filters the free flow of information.

“I'm going to Google words that help me find the very evidence, the very news stories that say yep, 'that idea,’’ said Christian.

The psychological term is Confirmation Bias, which is when people unintentionally seek out information that bolsters pre-existing ideas and prejudices.

When all people see is “I’m right,” Christian said, it’s easier to dismiss and even demonize the other side.

“We aren't befriending people who aren't like us,” Christian said.

Face-to-face conversations can lead to compromise, but more and more people communicate through social media.

“It’s really exponentially increased our civic divide in terms of ideology,” said Christian.

Berry said partisanship is rooted deeper into one's personal identity than ever before, so political disagreements can feel like personal attacks.

“It’s so embedded in our history, this question of race-class divides and it keeps rearing its head at different points in history,” Berry said.

In the world of unlimited information and viewpoints there are few things that remain elusive, common ground and understanding in a nation divided.

Christian is hopeful America will come back together again, if people work to burst their own personal filter bubbles.

“The people who I think strive to listen to the other side and take perspective, they’re who I put my hope in,” she explained.

She believes understanding can be achieved when people force constructive conversations and go out in search other perspectives.

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