When countries become polarized there is always one key characteristic. People don’t like people of the other side. This actually has a name. It’s called partyism. It is discrimination based upon the party one votes for. In the USA that would mean that democrats don’t like republicans, just because they are republicans and vice versa. It implies thinking you know someone based upon the idea of that person voting for a particular party, whatever the other values of that person might be.
In a politically polarized society, this is one of the key features. Just because someone votes for the opposite party, means that he/she is a bad person. Obviously, this is a logical fallacy, but it is harder to set aside than for example racism. Racism is discrimination based on the color of one’s skin. It is completely irrational as there is no evidence whatsoever that someone is more intelligent or physically more capable because of a change in pigment. Since it is based on clear prejudice, it’s easy to pull that to the side. But for political affiliation, that’s a bit harder. Political affiliation depends on the values you have, and we can definitely not like values someone has. I don’t like people who think any gender is better than the other, just based on gender.
But does it mean that because you vote for a particular party that you agree with every stance the party has? I don’t think so. There are many political fractures, many different left and right. You have the economic left-right divide. The libertarian-authoritarian divide. The cultural left and right. And there are many more. Parties try to fill in a spot on those lines. A party can be economically left, while being culturally right (the Nazi party of Germany comes to mind); but a party can also be authoritarian right while being culturally left. These things also fluctuate immensely throughout the years. The democratic party used to be the party that supported slavery, while republicans were against it. Nowadays, the democratic party fills in a very different spot.
Now in multiparty systems people can vote specifically for what ideology they want. There is at least one party that will cater your needs. In a two-party system this is less the case. There, there are multiple sub-factions who disagree on things. Even though Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are both democrats, I would say their ideologies differ tremendously. The same goes for the republican side. Not all republican voters are necessarily Trump supporters.
The party someone votes for or the ideas that someone has doesn’t necessarily make the other person bad. It just means that he or she has a different opinion. Obviously, there are dangerous ideas, but it is only by allowing the people to say those dangerous ideas that we can actually give a rebuttal. If we don’t listen to what the other has to say, then we won’t know the bad ideas when they come up. It’s not because someone doesn’t say his or her ideas that he or she doesn’t have them. And I’d rather know someone’s ideas than not. At least then I know who I have in front of me.
By not liking someone because of the party they vote for or because they have different opinions than us, we feed into the polarization. In a way we should argue for tolerance on ideas and see each other as human beings, not someone on the ‘other side’. I believe that to be a dangerous idea to say the least. Whenever we fall into tribalism, that’s when violence and bigotry erupt.
What I am not advocating for is not liking someone. You can not-like whoever you want. But most of the time when you don’t like someone it is because of something that person does. You might not like racists and when someone shows racist behavior (by acting out his/her idea of racism) then you don’t have to like that person. I wouldn’t. But that’s because of the act and not of the idea.
In the end, all I’m advocating for is that we value each other on the goodness of our being instead of the ideas that we hold, even though these things influence each other. We should see each other as human beings who make mistakes and might have ideas that are not optimal. I have ideas that might be wrong, but I won’t know that they are wrong until someone tells me in a civilized way that they are wrong, and we can then have a discussion about it. Just walking away when we hear something we don’t like, will not solve the problem of polarization; it’ll make it worse.
Politics and ideology aren’t the end all, be all. People are what makes the world fun to live in. And by pushing people away, we dupe only ourselves. Hopefully, we can put identity politics behind us and finally see each other again as valuable human beings.