Hilltop Voices: Alexandria Acord on political discourse

Alexandria Acord encourages Americans to consider the effects of the internet on political discourse and partisanship.

If there’s one quote that’s really stuck with me throughout these trying political times, it would have to be one of the most famous lines from the perennial Halloween special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  Rewatching it as your stereotypical English major who overanalyzes everything, I came to realize that a lot of this program revolves around issues of belief and how it can breed hostility if handled incorrectly, symbolized by children making fun of a young boy for his imaginative, nonconformist views of Halloween.  Perhaps the one line from the half-hour special that encompasses this point of view the most is when its main character, Linus Van Pelt, says that there are “three things [he’s] learned never to discuss in public: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.”

That phrase was first uttered on televisions all across America in 1966, yet we really haven’t changed that much since then.  Public political discourse is still, to some extent, discouraged or at the very least is considered to be in bad taste.  It’s the type of thing we feel the need to hide unless we either know someone well or know we will share their beliefs.  In a way, this stigma is so prevalent because there’s a small fear deep within us that not only will people reject our point of view, but they will outright laugh in our faces about it just like in the television special.  Ideally, technology would be the way to solve this problem, providing us with an anonymous outlet for our opinions, but really, it’s only made things worse.

The main problem is that anonymity can give people courage that they wouldn’t have otherwise, and while this issue comes up often in issues of cyberbullying and similar phenomena, it is not addressed as often with respect to an equally hostile environment: online comment forums.  Hostility towards opposing parties, according to Pew Research, has skyrocketed over the past twenty years to the point that 36 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats see their opposition as a legitimate threat to the nation.  While many other factors, such as the rise in negative campaign ads, have contributed to this, 55 percent of Internet users also “feel the Internet increases the influence of extreme political views.”  These extreme views are often so prominent that it can be easy to forget about other, more rational ways of thinking and for this to be the only image we really get of the other party.

The way I see it, many people approach two-party politics as similar to sports teams: they root for one in a very clear-cut fashion and see the other as a rival.  This way of thinking can hinder bipartisanship and compromise because agreeing with the other side or even admitting they may be right is seen as cheering for an enemy.  Due to this hostility, Pew Research continues, there is a rise in the number of people who agree almost wholeheartedly with their own parties and of politically-homogenous friendships.

The lack of bipartisanship in America is not something that can be blamed on Congress and shoved to the side.  We must admit that we the citizens have also contributed to this discord. We must learn once again to listen to what our fellow people have to say.  As we are slowly realizing the damage that we’ve done, new websites such as SavingAmerica.com are aiming to combat the stereotypes of online hostility by creating forums where people are not afraid to speak their minds and setting anti-discrimination rules so particularly epithet-prone groups can do the same in peace.  Before we can truly get to the point where talking about politics in public is tolerated, we must first open ourselves to others’ points of view, as John Stuart Mill preaches, and allow ourselves to discover that perhaps there is a way to band together as a single, yet diverse, team of Americans.

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