Picture this: It’s 2013, and Republicans and Democrats alike came together over the TV series Duck Dynasty despite the presence of firearms, religion, and camouflage. Nowadays, that kind of unity feels like a pipe dream. A forum commenter used this example to ask Americans when this extreme polarization took a turn, and their opinions were abundant.
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
1: Newt Started It All
One commenter says American politician Newt Gingrich started extreme polarization by refusing to compromise with Democrats. “He broke the way things actually get accomplished in Washington, DC. The Republican party still has the same mentality today.”
2: Sparked a Fire
Another commenter agrees that Gingrich sparked it all, bringing the first application of “scorched earth” politics. “It seems like silly semantics now, but it started an avalanche of abandonment of decorum and open hostility in rhetoric.”
3: One Nation Under God
Extreme polarization in the US hit a turning point with Regan’s “moral majority,” says one commenter. “He was the one who started pushing Christian nationalism harder than any other president before. The extremists saw this and pushed to fill their ranks.”
4: Greedy Grifters
One commenter believes extreme polarization comes down to marketing; the grift has made billions. “Hate and fear of ‘the other’ sells. These geniuses like Rupert Murdoch, Alex Jones, Roger Ailes, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc. ad nauseum, realized that they could sell advertising by getting people upset about things that don’t even exist.”
5: Nothing New
One commenter thinks that polarization in the US is nothing new. “People have been saying ‘why are we so divided’ for generations. Additionally, you have to remember that, at its core, politics is about division. If you’re only looking at the biggest disagreements, then of course it’s easy to only see division.”
6: A New Era
“The turning point I noticed was the election of Obama,” one commenter says. “Fox News got more racist and leaned harder into propaganda. As time went on, Fox News started putting overt racists on their broadcasts. Now, Conservatives are virtue signaling their prejudices, and everyone else can choose to support reprehensible people or not.”
7: Push for Patriotism
One person, who came of age around 9/11, picked up on polarization for the first time around that era. “It was all ‘America, love it or leave it!’ and everyone that was outspoken against the war getting canceled.”
8: It’s All Trump’s Fault
Trump sparked the most significant change in polarization, according to this commenter. “He ratcheted up the use of propaganda and outright lying, especially his claims that the press was not to be trusted. IMO, we won’t ever return to anything like harmony because right-wing extreme news outlets and social media algorithms have cemented the divide.”
9: Ruffling Feathers
“Obama being elected made a LOT of people mad,” ponders one commenter. “I think John McCain might have won if not for the epically bad choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. After that, the right made discrediting Obama a priority and seemed to care little for any other issue but immigration for years.”
10: What Is It Good For?
One sarcastic commenter had to point out that war is extreme polarization in and of itself. “I seem to remember, from a high school history class, that there was some sort of conflict or “war” in the US back in olden times, maybe the 1800s? People were so polarized and divided that they began killing each other by the thousands and tens of thousands.”
11: Pointing Fingers
Several commenters feel as if Gingrich turned the tide in 1994. “That attitude shift from ‘I disagree with my opponent’ to ‘my opponent is a bad person’ was cemented on that night and has only gotten worse.”
12: Sore Losers
Republicans made the shift when they were “losing the fight,” according to one commenter. “They became more polarized and more radical and started their downward spiral to where they are now with Trump. They constantly move the goalposts and try to bend the rules when they lose.”
13: History Repeats Itself
One commenter says the US has historically ebbed and flowed through polarization. “It’s not a snowball effect or a one-direction trend. I will suggest that as more answers to political questions are given by the federal government instead of state governments, it becomes more important that ‘your guy’ wins the federal election.”
14: Talking to Yourself
Rather than point to a specific time, one commenter says the internet is the cause of our polarization problems. “Now, we can all stay in our little Echo Chambers. The right, Fox, Breitbart, and many others. And it is the same way on the left. We are unwilling to step out of our Echo Chambers; we just vilify the other side.”
15: A Garden of Negativity
One commenter lays it all out in chronological order. “It’s a process that I’d argue had the seeds planted in the Nixon era, the cracks first exploited by Newt Gingrich in the 90s, ramped up by the GOP in the 2010s, and then Trump blew whatever was left out of the water in 2016.”
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