In the age of polarization, statements and actions no longer matter

It’s hard to believe that just ten years ago during the 2012 Presidential Election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney faced considerable backlash for saying “corporations are people too” and using the phrase “binders full of women” at one of the presidential debates. Yet now, just days before the 2022 Midterms, these comments hardly appear unusual given the colorful rhetoric employed by the current Republican party.

From the myriad of Senate and House candidates such as Harriet Hageman, Blake Masters and Adam Laxalt saying the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen, to Sen. Ted Cruz’s allegation that the man who attacked Paul Pelosi is actually a “hippy nudist from Berkeley” that Democrats are trying to paint as a right-wing extremist to discredit the Republican party, it seems that no theory or statement is considered too politically costly to publish.

I find these developments alarming. We’ve historically used the words of politicians to judge their character because it’s the best glimpse we will ever get of their personalities, values and morals. But if we no longer care about what politicians have to say, how can we even attempt to tone down polarization in this country?

External observers have long pointed to a “sweet spot”: the optimum position on the political spectrum where prospective politicians stand to attract the maximum number of voters. But in this new age of polarization, there appears to be two distinct spots on the spectrum for politicians: either extremely liberal or extremely conservative. The majority of supporters of both parties are too far away from the political center, destroying what is left of the middle ground.

The polarization of political centers means more politicians will have to make statements contrary to their beliefs to have any meaningful hope of an election victory. That means we’ll no longer be able to trust what politicians say. And if we can’t trust what they say, how can we ever anticipate what they’ll do once in power? How can we ever predict what the officials we elected will do?

Even actions are no longer enough to hold politicians accountable. Perhaps the greatest example of this is Hershel Walker, the Republican nominee for the Senate in Georgia whose personal life became fodder for the media. After establishing his opposition to abortion rights, multiple women he was previously in relationships with came forward with allegations that he had paid them to have abortions. In addition, news organizations revealed Walker had fathered three illegitimate children he never previously acknowledged.

Yet despite how damaging these reports may appear, they’ve hardly made a dent in Walker’s approval rating. The latest poll, conducted by the Remington Research Group on Nov. 2, showed a four-point lead for Walker in the Peach State. So perhaps we can view actions as a window to the character of politicians, but why does it matter if they’ll poll well and potentially become elected regardless?

If I’m honest, I never anticipated it would get this bad. The United States is at a turning point; inequality, polarization and divergence in values have all played their part in pushing us further apart.

I’ve seen commentators compare this time in our history to the years before the American Civil War, which is a particularly concerning observation. Wars start when people no longer see themselves as belonging to the same nation. Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s elections, that’s what we must never lose focus of –– no matter what contrasting views we hold, we are all American. We all belong to the same nation, and we all want the best for it. Nothing will ever change that.

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