With the forthcoming election, I've been thinking a great deal about just how the country arrived at this place where we currently are. Academically, we can draw roots all the way back to the New Deal when the initial seeds of this time were sown. Whether physics or politics, indeed every action has an opposite reaction; however, in politics such reactions are rarely equal.
This reaction came in the form of Barry Goldwater, an Arizonan Senator who ran as the Republican candidate in the presidential election of 1964. While Goldwater is often credited with the resurgence of the conservative movement in the United States, it was his tactics and approach which ultimately initiated the levels of division we are experiencing today.
In 2016, there was a lot of uncertainty with respect to what a Trump presidency would look like. Donald Trump had never been a poltician, there was a lot of division in the country, and there seemed to be a new wave of National Populism spreading across the entire globe from the US to the UK, Italy, Brazil, and Turkey.
Prior to Trump and Clinton winning their respective party nominations, I remember finding it particularly strange that so many U.S. voters were on the fence between Trump and Sanders. Over and over again I would hear from people that if Clinton won the Democrat party nomination, that they would vote for Trump, but if Sanders won, they would vote for Sanders over Trump. This seemed counter-intuitive because there was little common ground between the two candidates. On one hand, there was Sanders who was running predominately on healthcare reform, education reform, and campaign finance reform. He had identified specific problems within each domain and he had a fairly clear message. On the other hand, there was Trump who was running almost exclusively on improving the economy. While his message was far more general, he essentially ran on the core idea that as a successful business man, he knows money and he would fix the economy and create jobs.
While both platforms had the ability to resonant with voters, especially those of lower socio-economic status, I was really confused by what I was hearing about the types of voters who were really energized by these candidates. Fox News, New York Post, and other right-leaning media would describe Sanders' supporters as social justice warrior, snowflake Communists just looking for a handout. At the same time, MSNBC, Mother Jones, and other left-leaning media described Trump's supporters as being uneducated, white supremacist Fascists who wanted to deport all non-whites and cut ties with the rest of the globe. Clearly, there was a disconnect somewhere because there was a significant overlap between supporters of both of these candidates.
It was this precise disconnect which led me to draw two conclusions:
It was the approach taken by each candidate which appealed to their supporters. It wasn't as much about the issues, but each candidate created a villian, framed himself as the hero, and was able to convince his supporters that, a.) the problem was directly and actively impacting supporters' lives and livelihoods, and b.) without the candidate, the problem would continue to grow to some point of unsustainability resulting in collapse of the fundamental fibers of society.
The intersection of these two sets of voters did not include any members of the base for either candidate. Each candidate's base of supporters was essentially too extreme to be publically embraced and each candidate would need to rely on their respective media sources to redirect conversations about core supporters to conversations about "undecided" voters.
Each candidate knew that there was some percentage of the population which would vote for him no matter what – the only option.
During the end of the Bush (George W.) presidency was when the division in the country started to become especially pronounced. It is worth noting that this was not based on the actions of President Bush specifically, but rather a phenomena exacerbated by the 107th Congress, split between the Republican controlled house of Representatives and the Democrat controlled Senate. It was no longer the case that all parties were focused on solving the same set of problems with a different set of approaches, but rather individual parties became the exclusive custodians of individual policy issues. While this was definitely the case with both Democrats and Republicans, it was much more pronounced with Republicans due to the fact that the party had been, and would continued to be, shifting further to the right of the political spectrum.
It was at this time that Roger Ailes, the chairman and CEO of Fox News, was shifting the Fox New business model based on simple consumer demand, the "Burger King" approach to news, you have it your way. Fox News was catering to a Republican audience who were interested in certain policy issues and not interested in other policy issues. They didn't want to hear about women's rights, healthcare, or environmental issues and they did want to hear about school prayer, second amendment rights, and increased military spending.
Faced with the age old question of life imitating art versus art imitating life, as viewers became insulated from issues that were viewed as holding little value to Republican voters, the same voters became increasingly less educated on policy issues outside of the party's sphere. A dangerous corollary here is that many important policy issues are therefore entirely ignored and as specific issues became increasingly viewed as "Liberal" or "Conservative" issues rather than "American" issues, those members of the party who were furthest to the right viewed any attempts to "cross the aisle" as a form of betrayal or disloyalty.
While it is certainly true that bias and "Burger King" news exists at all points of the political spectrum, it is far more pronounced across the right simply because the Republican party has shifted so far to the extreme right over the past twenty years while Democrats haven't moved that much. While there certainly is a small, hard-left faction of the party, this minority has been especially loud on their own while also being further amplified by hard-right politicians who use the group as validation for their own actions and extreme agenda. In essence, it is all relative, with what has historically been middle-of-the-road or centrist being labelled as "Liberal" or "extreme left" by the typical Republican.
As the divide across the political spectrum grew, the muting of policiees by consumer-based media organizations did not continue but rather diverged into disjoint sets of opposing views, essentially two entirely separate and oppositing perceptions of reality. From a purely statistical standpoint, it cannot be possible that across every single, extremely varied issue, where each party has the exact opposite view of the other, that one party would always be correct and the other always wrong. One of the biggest red flags that I have found in modern media is the constant opposition. While in America there are certainly topics which are particularly contentious such as abortion, gun control, healthcare, and climate change.