The Downfall of the American Way

Ryan Heshmati

March 25, 2022 (Last Modified July 29, 2022)

The United States has undergone a major shift in its approach to people, issues, and ideas. The 2016 and 2020 presidential elections were not the cause, but rather symptoms, of the intensifying partisanship in American politics. Examples in the 1980s included the division regarding the failed confirmation of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and anti-Dukakis advertisements that spread in the 1988 presidential election. By 2000, America’s division had transformed into a vicious battle for the White House, after the election had already ended. In recent years this struggle for power between Democrats and Republicans has been a major step backward for the American way and for American prosperity. We may be richer than we used to be, but are we happier? In fact, a NORC survey found Americans are actually the unhappiest they have been since 1972, which was during wartime.

Statistics, however, are not even necessary to recognize the decline in America. One can simply look back to the last time they had a political discussion with someone of the opposing viewpoint; was it positive? Chances are the answer is no. As Americans, it is crucial that we stop worrying about who’s a Democrat or Republican and begin to focus on the fact that we are one another’s parents, cousins, classmates, and neighbors. Members of every generation recognize this polarization. Even through the halls of Saratoga High, it is common to hear people share opinions to the effect of, “That’s it, I hate Democrats and Republicans, elections have become a choice between bad and worse.” 

When attempting to find the culprits, it is important to look to where people form opinions: the media. No, it is not a CNN or Fox problem, it’s a culture problem that has plagued the entire media industry. In an attempt to keep viewership from the party bases, most news programs have become echo chambers that feed into the division. Some of these programs go so far as to switch opinions on issues as soon as their idols do. An example of this would be Tucker Carlson, in March of 2020, saying, “Of course, masks work. Everyone knows that.” However after President Trump made clear his reluctance to back mask-wearing, Carlson, only a few months later, argued social distancing and mask-wearing measures had “no basis.” Carlson’s contradictions are sobering evidence that support former Press Secretary Bill Moyer’s assertion that, “We seem to prefer a comfortable lie to the uncomfortable truth.”

Having established the problem, we must now seek solutions. One step that everybody can take is listening and respecting those with a different point of view. Another important shift needs to be in how voters choose their candidates. Voters must demand that elected officials make bipartisan progress, and if they do not, they should be voted out. Furthermore, there needs to be a gradual move towards the center of the national political compass, because an America where Americans continue moving toward political extremes, such as the likes of Antifa and Proud Boys, is not an America worth settling for.