When Joe Biden made his first address as president, he announced his intentions to bridge the political divide in American society. In all of the millions of people who tuned in, no one could ask, “What divide?” The bitterness between American citizens is tangible. Political arguments are not little “agree-to-disagree” disputes among friends; they are active warzones. However, the two sides have a lot more in common than they realize. By focusing on the things that unite us, we may be able to find harmony.
A Divided Nation
Studies at the Pew Research Center found that the past 2020 election highlighted the deep divide between political parties. Both supporters of Trump and supporters of Biden believed that the differences between them go beyond politics. About eight out of ten voters on both sides explained their differences were about core American values. Similarly, nine out of ten (again from both sides) worried that it would lead to “lasting harm” to the country if the other side won the election. 
Additionally, during the 2020 pandemic, about 77% of Americans believed the country became more divided since the outbreak, as opposed to the median of 47% with 13 other nations. 
Even before the pandemic, out of the 20 nations surveyed, Americans were more ideologically divided on how much they trust scientists and whether scientists’ actions are based solely on facts. This divide continued into the outbreak as Democrats and Republications argued over contact tracing, masks, the safety of vaccines, and how well the officials dealt with the pandemic. It’s incredible — almost terrifying — how cutthroat and antagonistic the two-party system has become. Even a common enemy like COVID-19 failed to unite us. Instead, it became another topic where both sides fought to gain the upper hand.
However, whether Americans voted for Biden or not, his sentiments to end “this grim era of demonization in America” resonates. 
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lord
The Things That Divide Us
The problem is that people gain from this terrible divide.
A common tactic seen in media is moral panic. It’s a campaign used to push fear, reinforce stereotypes, and intensify divisions. First, the media strips the subject of any likable traits and exacerbates its negative ones. The threat the subject possesses is often embellished. The public hysteria that arises causes the passing of legislation. This legislation is often unnecessary, but it punishes the subject and furthers the agendas of those already in power. These subjects could be individuals, groups, certain races or cultures, or actions.  
For example, think of the war on drugs in the 1980s, where the subjects were urban crack cocaine dealers and the unimaginable evils of these substances. Similarly, think of the Sanatinc Panic of the 1980s, which has thankfully reduced over the years. Topics like these drew people to authorities and politicians who vowed to fight them, and it kept people glued to the media for updates. These authorities, politicians, and media gain greatly from moral panic.
Additionally, the media uses framing techniques to call attention to certain aspects of an issue while obscuring other details. That’s where the idea that “all media is biased” comes from. One could still speak facts while pushing a biased agenda.
Media and politicians often use moral panic and framing to paint their opposing party in a negative light. It’s not just criticism — it’s often downright vilification. So, of course, there could be no cooperation. How can there be when both sides view each other as monsters?
The Things That Unite Us
Unfortunately, many people lose sight of the goals in politics — to create a more peaceful, prosperous, and safer country. Instead, the focus becomes “to beat the other side,” whether or not that would result in any long-term improvements. In reality, both sides want the same thing, a better America. They just have different ideas on how to achieve that. But instead of arguing about ideological differences, more productive discussions could be had if there’s a framework of commonality.
After all, we are all people with passions and ambitions. Once we get past the labels of Democrat and Republican, we have more in common than we once thought. And these things can unite us.
Our personal biases come from our individual experiences. We don’t know what other people go through, but if we somehow knew their life story, their political views might become clear to us. Often, we are voting for whichever candidate will best benefit our families and communities. If we look past our differences and try to listen and understand each other, we will be able to develop solutions to protect all of our families and communities.
Our differences can actually have positive results. We have so much to learn from each other. We all co-exist on this same planet, and we all want a better future for ourselves and the next generation. That alone can unite us.
We don’t have to agree on everything. In fact, it would be impossible to try. But once we begin breaking down the wall that divides us, we’ll be able to build bridges between us. And there’s so much good to be found on the other side.
Keep Reading: Please, Don’t Wait to Tell People You Love Them
- “Voters’ feelings about the election and possible outcomes.” Pew Research. OCTOBER 9, 2020
- “Most Approve of National Response to COVID-19 in 14 Advanced Economies.” Pew Research. Kat Devlin and Aidan Connaughton. August 27, 2020
- “America is exceptional in the nature of its political divide.” Pew Research. Michael Dimock and Richard Wike. November 13, 2020
- “Moral Panic: Who Benefits From Public Fear?” Psychology Today. Scott A, Bonn Ph.D. July 20, 2015
- “Whose side were we on? The undeclared politics of moral panic theory.” Sage Journals. Stanley Cohen. December 16, 2011