Living in Political Extremes.

Maybe we’re self-deprecating by always asserting that there are two clear sides and everyone must pick one? We saw this trend in our reading of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers—two sides fighting over what foundation to lay for the development of America. We see this today, particularly in contemporary politics as Democrats and Republicans continue to battle it out. If someone doesn’t pick a side it seems their opinions are somewhat invalidated, Libertarians thoughts are worth less than those of the ruling parties.


True, we have psychological tendencies to categorize people, to place them in camps and subsequently make assumptions about them based on said labels. Yet, I fear we are doing more harm than good by allowing so much of our political and government organizations to exist as a system of classifications. Ronit Baras explains how toxic and overpowering these labels can be. In a Psychology Today article, Baras (2012) notes how easily we can be “trapped by labels”. Baras argued that when labels such as ‘gifted’ or ‘learning disabled’ are placed on school children they not only affect how others perceive them (and their subsequent strengths or weaknesses), but also how they perceive themselves, as the labels often follow them for years to come. These effects remain even after the labels are removed. In another study, Francesco Foroni and Myron Rothbart (2012) discovered that individuals’ thinking continues to face the restrictions the labels presented, even after the labels are removed.

Unfortunately, we saw this in our nation’s infancy as the Federalist and Anti-Federalists existed in dichotomous camps and today as many Democrats vehemently despise Republicans and vice versa. Kaufman (2012) argues that “when we split people up into such dichotomous categories, the large variation within each category is minimized whereas differences between these categories are exaggerated.” Last week in class we attempted to place Trump in one of the two camps: is he an Anti-Federalist or a Federalist? Lo and behold, we were unable to do it. It seemed that depending on the speech we examined, or the initiatives he has organized, he could be placed in either label. This could easily prove true for our US Democrats and Republicans. There is far more common ground than we often realize. Sure, some of us want more guns in our country and less regulation, some want the opposite, but we are aiming for the same goal, a safe country.

The centuries of political dichotomous labels results in a citizenry which exaggerates the difference between each other and minimizes our similarities. People are unique, complex and always changing—they simply cannot be appropriately and effectively placed into one of two sides. It is not only inappropriate to place ourselves into two opposing camps, but dangerous for our nation’s future. We are already fighting an uphill battle as we strive to become one united community and these labels are placing boulders in our path. One way to begin to combat this is to be aware. Recognize the mental entrapment these labels impose and maybe, just maybe, we can begin to break free and realize we all aren’t that different.

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12 Responses to Living in Political Extremes.

  1. We don’t debate anymore
    Labeling, insults, and personal attacks have become the most common method of argument.
    Joshua Philipp in an article he wrote in the The Epoch Times, states “At its root is the same philosophy used by totalitarian systems and leaders over the 20th century—from Hitler, to Stalin, to Pol Pot—to label members of society as enemies of the regime’s social agendas…”
    British actor and comedian Tom Walker commented on this in a viral video where he blames the left, “because the left have decided that any other opinion, any other way of looking at the world is unacceptable.”
    I believe a root cause is in the political stance of whichever national media is viewed. An alarming number of citizens tend to get the majority of information from the media and do not take the time nor energy to research any opposing perspectives.

  2. jackbuck1 says:

    I agree with you it does seem like we need to start debating again and break away from the labels in a sense. However These labels stand for something and it is okay to identify as Republican or Democrat. I think where we run into issues is the lack of respect for the other persons opinion. I think if we actually listened to the other side of the political spectrum rather then belittling them ( and it happens on both the right and the left.) then we could get something done. It is okay for people to have differing opinions. This might be to optimistic but I do think we all want the same thing. we all want what is best for our people or for the world. I do not think ideologies or labels are themselves bad or we need to break away from them but i think it is how we have used them in the past they become toxic. I think our society needs to evolve so that way we can talk and debate and be excited about politics rather then being upset about the political outlook. I think that we can get there because there has been a increase in political engagement.

    • rustlingwinds says:

      Hello jackbuck1,

      I agree that we need to evolve past our labels and begin to truly have conversations with one another. Do you have any ideas on how we can start to accomplish this? If we were to ask most people I believe most, if not all, would say they do want healthy debate. So, somehow we need to move past this simple desire into action, into the reality of healthy debates. Would a first-step of this be the use of “people-first” language? Language which identifies that the labels we are choosing to apply to a person do not in fact make up their whole identity? I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on concrete next steps we can take to move the debate forward…or are we simply stuck?

      Thank you for your comment!

    • I agree that not all labeling is counter productive, but when those opposed to that label automatically assume that every Democrat or Republican shares all of the same ideologies of their party I believe that becomes divisive. Honest debate is fundamental to to society, but when exchanging political views it is vital that both sides are aware that there are going to be areas of agreement and to keep an open mind.

  3. MeganLynde says:

    I really enjoyed this topic. It might be “easier” for us to categorize people based on their political beliefs than to embrace the nuances that make us unique; however, once we do this, it seems harder to find common ground. By categorizing people into two camps, we create an “us versus them” mentality. It becomes harder to work as a whole because we no longer focus on what unites us, but what differentiates us.

  4. landonsabori says:

    I thought you had a very interesting topic and I agree with you with a lot of what you said. I think that it is hard from government to make someone choose a side whether its republican or democratic. I agree with that you people agree with both parties on different topics but they are forced to stick with their side on a majority of what they favor. I am an independent and I agree with topics on both sides so I relate very well to this topic. You referring it to an uphill battle makes it all come together because everyone does want what is right and wants to make the our country the best.

  5. chicanochomsky says:

    I think your post elucidates a major problem our two party system creates, and additionally the need to have multiple, viable parties in America. I identify as a Democratic Socialist, so I often feel left out of mainstream debates between Democrats and Republicans because I’m not explicitly on any of the major “teams” (Democrat or Republican). It is easier to create an “us vs them” dichotomy when there are only two options to really choose from in order to be “heard”. I don’t think the answer to opening up political debate is to eliminate parties all together, but rather to create more parties. The Democratic Party for example seems to have split in the 2016 primary election between neoliberals and the left, so perhaps they could be split into separate parties. Much like the Democrats, the GOP today seems to be a hodgepodge of multiple factions, such as fiscal conservatives, neoconservatives and those whose conservatism is more grounded in religious or social issues.

    Given our first past the post electoral system this task may be easier said than done. Yet it may also mobilize more Americans to participate in the electoral political process, namely those who do not readily identify with either of the two major parties. Additionally, opening up the political debate amongst multiple parties, would in my view, make it harder for one party to consolidate power, and therefore create an environment where compromise and finding common ground is not only more appealing, but perhaps easier achieved.

  6. bijanm1995 says:

    I agree with you about the need for more civilized debate in modern politics. I think that dangers of categorizing and labeling groups of people has also shown itself on campus’s across the country where a lot of people seem to believe that you can just can just call people you disagree with “nazis”, this type of obstruction just gets in the way of civilized debate and further divides us. It seems that since the election the country has become extremely divided along political lines, so much that even something as uniting as football has become divisive.

  7. jacobdsaaevdra says:

    I think you point to a very important aspect of our current political situation, while we may have of a different idea of how to get their, both sides are doing something that they believe will make America better. I think we have gotten to a point where political pundits point the finger at their opposing colleagues and claim that they hate America or purposely create policy that would damage America. Not only is throwing these types of language at a political opponent dishonest it is also dangerous as it could influence a random follower to action against the politician. I also agree that we shouldn’t be attached to such labels and that loyalty to said labels is furthering our divide. This loyalty is no where more clear than with the incumbency rates when compared with satisfaction with the job of Congress. Loyalty to a certain party has reached a point where we hate the job that congress is doing but vote for them anyway. It is not the American people that are becoming more polarized but the parties themselves. And since we are loyal to said parties it creates this image of a highly polarized nation. I think the first step in bringing a divided country together is to take our dissatisfaction with the current political parties and show said dissatisfaction in the voters booth.

  8. bealpeyton says:

    Great post!

    Firstly, I found your paragraph on the psychology of labels to be quite fascinating. It is a fact that party recognition, or labels, is the number one factor that the vast majority of people take into account at the ballot box, ahead of policy, ideology, and even race and gender. The thing is, though, I am not sure what the appropriate solution is to remedy this identification problem. Do we overhaul our system of government as we know it and implement a parliamentary system of some kind? Revamp our election process to make all elections publicly funded, therefore preventing the most powerful and wealthy factions from ensuring political dominance? I am unsure of what the answer it is, but what I know is that the two major parties do actively excel at one thing: absorbing the policy positions of smaller, less powerful parties. Many of Bernie Sander’s “socialist” positions are being consumed by the democrats, while many positions ranging from libertarian to the far-right fall under the republican sphere of influence.

    Lastly, I think that in the immediate future, and instead of any significant changes to the American political landscape, we will instead see continued disenchantment with the major parties, leading to an increased number of people choosing to register as independents, regardless of where they lie on the political spectrum.

  9. jisthelamb says:

    I agree with you on being aware of the political spectrum and where we place ourselves. Labeling can be pretty harsh. In my own personal example with family, some of us label ourselves as democrat, some of us republicans. Needless to say, we clash on social and political issues. Labeling ourselves kind of does divide us in our own home. Much like this country is our Home, we too can be divided by labels.

  10. lachew says:

    Thank you so much for your post! I definitely understand where you’re coming from. Especially in these “divisive times”, we do tend to group ourselves—and not only into different camps, but into exactly *two* camps. (Many politically-minded people today lament the two-party system that we have in the United States, comparing it to the multi-party systems in many other Western democracies.) Interestingly enough, I was reminded of a political science study by Rosenthal and Jacobson, which saw the effects of a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. Students, picked at random, were told that they were expected to significantly improve during the year; they did in fact see improvement, attributable simply to labelling and expectations.
    I also do find it interesting that some of our Founding Fathers specifically warned against factions (James Madison) and extreme partisanship (George Washington), yet that’s what we see in politics today. Of course, it’s also certainly true that it’s difficult to objectively determine whether partisanship has actually worsened over time and we are genuinely at an “all-time low”, as many who bemoan the current political climate claim, since we are in confined by time and lack the benefit of hindsight.

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