An American Identity Crisis

White House Building (Dollyllama)
White House Building (Image: Dollyllama)

Joe Biden has been called the winner of the 2020 Election, making him the 46th President-Elect of the United States. Additionally, Kamala Harris will make history as the first female, Indian, and Black Vice President. The Biden-Harris campaign defeated President Trump by over 5 million popular votes and achieved the highest number of total votes in the history of American presidential elections. 

While Democrats have heralded this historic victory, important questions remain over the continuing moral and ideological struggle between the conflicting political forces in America. Over 70 million people voted for a second term for President Trump, and his base is more ready than ever to defend their values. Not only is Trump in the process of trying to claim victory, but the prospect of a GOP-controlled Senate means bipartisan cooperation will likely be needed for Democratic policies to be enacted.

Abraham Lincoln famously said “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” While perhaps the division Lincoln was referring to was ideologically quite different, the political polarization in the US today is reminiscent of the harsh divide leading up to the Civil War. Republicans and Democrats refuse to agree on many key issues, which has led to both political gridlock in Washington and increased tensions in communities around the country. In presidential elections prior, it was customary that both candidates would share at least some ideas and that their proponents could understand opposing arguments. However, in the most recent election, Biden advocates reported that they have little to almost no idea why others choose to vote for Trump, someone they see as dangerous to the wellbeing of the nation, and Trump supporters share the same sentiment regarding Biden’s voters. Pew Research Center reports that across 10 political values they have tracked since 1994, there is now an average 36-percentage-point gap between Republicans and Democrats, an all-time high. Nearly nine-in-ten Republicans (88%) approve of Trump’s job performance compared with just 8% of Democrats.

Political divide is not only an ideological problem; this separation has real-world consequences, such as violent clashes during protests or right-wing insurrectionist marches. Such high stakes pose the obvious question: Why can’t Americans just get along? The answer is quite complicated. Geographical, ideological, and spiritual factors converge to pull America apart, leading to a toxic environment that refuses change. And while Washington High School remains highly liberal, the national divide seen between different political parties is also evident between some groups of students. Still, some students believe that the prospect of hope remains. They feel that if Americans can learn to understand where others are coming from, maybe they can learn to live with their beliefs.

Propelled by the rise of social media algorithms that only show us news we want to hear and agree with, it is rare for Americans to be exposed to opinions they do not hold themselves. In a poll done by staff reporters with over 50 responses, many Washington students reported that they cannot understand where Trump backers get their ideas and why they continue to vote for him. However, they expressed interest in understanding the mentality of Trump advocates and wrote questions that they wanted them to answer. 

Washington Senior Bryce Harrison offered some insight behind his continued support for Trump. Conversely, Senior Ava Chand explained the basis for her disdain for Trump and where she felt Harrison was mistaken. Harrison described why he endorses Trump, saying that “I really like his foreign policy and he’s done exceptionally well with NATO and the Middle East peace deal.” On a question about his and the President’s stances on mask-wearing, Harrison said that “I am in favor of wearing a mask and while Trump occasionally wears a mask, I think he should wear it more.” Harrison added that “[wearing a mask] is up to him, and he can choose whether to wear it or not.” To this Chand responded that “230,000 people have died from Covid-19 and that if Trump wants to be a good example, he must always wear a mask as a courtesy,” adding that “Dr. Fauci has said that a federal mask mandate would reduce cases.” She pointed out the irony of those against abortion saying “my body, my choice to defend not wearing a mask, but rejecting it when talking about abortion.” Talking about climate change, Harrison reported that “Last year the US was energy independent for the first time and reduced its carbon emissions the most” and that “We have been following the Paris Agreement’s guidelines but other countries have not.” And even though Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement, Harrison said “I honestly wish he had not done that, and I’m hoping we go back into it.” 

Harrison also explained his attitude towards the Black Lives Matter movement and the events that followed. He agreed that the Trump administration’s call to use tear gas on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park was “way overboard, and that throwing the army in there was way too much.” Even though Trump tweeted (without specifying whether it was regarding the organization or the idea) that Black Lives Matter was “a symbol of hate,” Harrison stated that “No one can argue against the statement Black Lives Matter.” He commented that “Violent protest hurts the cause, which is a shame and can be dangerous.” Chand responded that “While I don’t condone violence I understand where [violent protests] are coming from. As a Black woman, years of oppression and being looked down on have led to violence on violence. The way this country works is similar. Look to the Boston Tea Party, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, these were all acts of violence that led to results.” 

Abortion has been a contentious topic throughout Trump’s presidency, and the confirmation of Amy Coney Barret to the Supreme Court has thrust this issue back into the spotlight. Harrison describes himself as “pro-circumstance: for example I am a fan of anyone under 18 getting an abortion as I don’t think a minor should be in charge of another minor. Abortions should be given in cases of rape and sexual assault as well.” He added that “The problem I have with abortion now is when people have unprotected sex and realize they don’t want to have the responsibility of a child. I believe it is a human life at the moment of conception.” Chand pointed out how “People may not be financially stable enough to have a child, and if someone is irresponsible enough to have unprotected sex they’re not responsible enough to take care of a child.” Chand also believes that “Life starts at the heartbeat, but it’s not my place to tell you what to do with your body or what to believe. Before that, I believe it is a hunk of cells, like another organ or piece of tissue.”

In numerous instances, the attitudes of Trump supporters and their counterparts were very different from each other. However, the overall divide between Harrison and Chand was less than most would expect. Both agreed that climate change is an extremely important issue. Harrison said that “I wish Trump had a climate change position. He has not taken a good stance towards climate change which is a really big problem we’re facing.” Harrison detailed that while he “absolutely hated Trump’s record on climate change,” overall, he agreed with “8/10 of Trump’s policies and only 2/10 of Biden’s.” Harrison did criticize Trump’s overall political approach, saying “I despise his constant tweeting, and 8 out of 10 times I despise his personality.” Harrison agreed with Chand on LGBT+ rights, saying “I despise Mike Pence and am pro-LGBT.” 

Students predict that bridging the national divide will be an important goal that many future presidents will strive to achieve. In an interview with 60 Minutes, former President Obama lamented how “Our adversaries have seen us weakened because of cleavages, [divisions] that they think they can exploit.” Harrison and Chand both represent the divide that American leaders such as Obama or Trump have had to deal with daily. In coming years, students across the country who share the same beliefs as Harrison and Chand will be able to vote, directly affecting the future of the nation. While both stated that compromise may not be an option in certain situations, they agree that cooperation will be key and that only with empathy can true progress be made.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *