Columnist discusses political polarization in the United States.


In Federalist 10, James Madison spoke of the “violence of faction” and the danger it poses to democracy. He described factions as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” The “factious spirit,” he said, is the consequence of human propensity to form factions, as well as an inevitable product of human nature and political freedom.

Political factions, or parties, were formed during the formation of the American government in the 18th century. The Federalists, led by Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, wanted a strong central government, while the Anti-Federalists, led by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, advocated states’ rights instead of centralized power. The dramatic partisan rivalry led George Washington to warn of “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” in his Farewell Address as president of the United States.

Madison believed factions to be one of the most dangerous threats to democracy, due to large amounts of political instability stemming from rivalry between factions. This fear is not unwarranted, as America currently faces unprecedented levels of political polarization — and consequential political

Political polarization occurs when political identity becomes social identity, which leads to the divergence of political attitudes to ideological extremes.

While the American political parties began as purely political institutions, they have come to encompass nearly all aspects of American life. My personal belief is that American political polarization stems from the politicalization of human rights. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have weaponized certain humanitarian issues (such as LGBTQ+ rights, environmental issues, etc.) to draw voters to their “side,” thus furthering the divide between partisans.

This is done to eliminate the possibility of compromise between opposing party members, as many refuse to compromise their, or their supporters’, rights.

I often find myself falling prey to this phenomenon. As a gay, biracial woman, I often find my fundamental rights a subject of political discourse, causing me to take a stance in favor of the party that supports those rights, which is often the Democratic party. While I do not consider myself a Democrat by any means (I retain a certain degree of dislike for the bipartisan system of American government and believe both parties possess a large amount of corruption), many of my ideologies fall in line with those of the Democratic platform.

Due to this, I find myself prone to judging people based on their political standing, which is something I’m not proud of. Yet, it is difficult for me to imagine ever compromising my political beliefs, as I believe that those beliefs protect my and my peers’ fundamental rights. I admit that I find it very difficult to maintain conversations with people of the Republican party, as the platform of the Republican party retains a openly racist and anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. The party itself has taken a stance in opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, comprehensive sex education, affirmative action, immigration, universal health care, and other humanitarian issues I believe strongly in.

The strategic beauty of American political parties having weaponized human rights in their political platforms is that it has effectively created animosity between partisans and made it nearly impossible for people to compromise. America was, theoretically, built on protecting the fundamental rights of all humans, yet it is the discourse over which rights are fundamental that has dangerously polarized our country.

The consequences of political polarization are not unknown, and in order to pre- serve democracy we must learn to compromise. But how do we do that if nobodyis willing to do so?