Can a traditionalist, anti-abortionist, climate change denier, be friends with a progressive, pro-choice, climate-activist? Well, yes. Political preferences are cast privately at the ballot, once every four years, and one can move on with their lives in between. Nevertheless, anyone who holds a political opinion can admit that it is not that simple.
In today’s age, political opinions are identities with which we define ourselves. There is an unparalleled correlation between one’s morals and ethics, and one’s political preferences. After all, the climate crisis poses an existential question to how one conducts their everyday life. Simultaneously, a topic like abortion provides a deeper overview of one’s religious and spiritual worldview.
One must wonder if the current political climate is simply a birthchild of existing disdain against opposing parties, or whether this polarization is a new phenomenon generated by President Trump's rise. The simple answer is that polarization existed far before Trump entered politics. Still, the rhetoric that he introduced combined by social media's growing strength resulted in a far more polarized United States. Trump has used the platform he has on Twitter to constantly label Biden “sleepy Joe”, and ridicule adversaries by using degrading rhetoric: “pathetic”, “slob”, “spoiled brat”, “lightweight”, “phoney”, “dummy”, and “clown”. Whether purposefully or accidentally, this language trickles down to the American population, which in turn has a hard time considering someone of a different political view, a friend. It is therefore unsurprising that roughly four-in-ten registered voters in the Biden or Trump camp respectively, say that they do not have a single close friend who supports the other candidate (Pew Research Center).
Perhaps Trump is not a cause of polarization, but rather its effect. Maybe polarization is already inherent in American society. After all, it would be virtually impossible to claim that the United States is currently more polarized than it was, say, during the Civil War, or the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s. This contempt for opposition is probably amplified by the two-party system, rather than solely initiated by individuals. In the past, America’s winner-take-all electoral system appeared to reward candidates with a vast national appeal. No party could give up on half of the electorate, unlike democracies in Europe, which emphasized proportional representation and parties' plurality. Additionally, no party could win an election by nominating extremist, anti-system candidates, as they could not win the majority’s vote. In today’s political arena, both American parties tend to cater to the interests of only about half the electorate each. This in itself creates a system, whereby clashes between Democrats and Republicans is inevitable.
Needless to say, not every Democrat loathes Republicans or vice versa. There have been plenty of examples of statesmen who had terrific cooperation, even across party lines. Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Senator John McCain, for example, allegedly had a fantastic working relationship. The Presidential Candidate memorably said in his eulogy of the late McCain: "My name's Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat. And I loved John McCain”. Similarly, Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia had a special relationship working together in Washington. Interviewed by The Washington Post, Ginsburg highlighted her appreciation for the healthy clash of ideas in their friendship. “As annoyed as you might be about his zinging dissent, he’s so utterly charming, so amusing, so sometimes outrageous, you can’t help but say, ‘I’m glad that he’s my friend or he’s my colleague,'" she said.
If chief statesmen have done this, why can’t the average American do the same? After all, it is far harder to make friends with Capitol Hill opponents than in local neighbourhoods, towns, and cities. Certainly, it is rare, and sure, the current political climate damaged the already beaten relationship between Democrats and Republicans, but is it not crucial to have friends with opposing viewpoints? To learn how to see issues differently, even when they do not precisely fit our worldview? If we cannot learn to be friends with people we disagree with, how are we meant to get along in times of trouble, say, a global pandemic? Sure, it’s hard to accept someone who differs from you in fundamental ways but is it not worth giving a try? Not only to expand your own worldview but also to create a slightly more tolerating society.