Political Polarization and Emotion Driven Reactions: Defining “Liberal” and “Conservative”
Politics has a way of dividing people. This is certainly true in South America with the Rousseff Impeachment Controversy where diehard supporters of Brazil President Dilma Rousseff reject any criticism of her while opponents feel compelled to throughout demonize her in order to push her out of power. It is tempting to blame the civil discontent of developing countries like Brazil on immature nature of their democracies, but the same is seen in the United States. The 2016 Presidential Election campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is further polarizing the United States to the point emotional responses suppress meaningful debate.
For democracy to function properly, the People must be represented and their interests must be translated into viable policies. Political polarization, which pressures voters “to pick a side,” even if neither extreme serves their interests, hinders representation. Meanwhile, policies rooted in extremist ideologies cannot be sustained or properly implemented. Donald Trump’s supporters, for example, have grown so averse to dissent that they resist questioning whether Trump is an agent for change or simply saying whatever it takes to become President.
Just like Barack Obama in the 2008, Donald Trump has become a “Messiah” figure to many. They see him as a noble agent of change who will finally force the Country into the right direction to the point they have become emotionally tied to the Presidential candidate. Unfortunately, these types of emotional ties to political candidates mean supporters tend to respond emotionally to new developments instead of intellectually processing the impact of such information. In other words, valid criticism of Trump will either compel supporters to repel criticism or discourage them from voting, but it will rarely spark meaningful debate.
Because voters are too often driven by emotional reactions, instead of intellectual engagement, we find ourselves forced to choose between one side or the other. Ultimately, this reinforces the polarization of our political system. More importantly, it undermines our representation in government by narrowing our collective interests. Instead of freely expressing their views, Republican Party leaders feel compelled to support Donald Trump, because he is the nominee. To boot, polarization also distorts our representation. This is no truer than when it comes to the division between “conservatives” and “liberals.”
Politicians have lost touch with what the terms ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ actually mean. Instead of understanding the concepts, they use the terms to discredit and insult rivals. The use of terms like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ has become a means to manipulate voters instead of serving as informative descriptions. Virtually no one can truly be a conservative or liberal on every issue. What is liberal today will be conservative tomorrow, while conservative views of yesteryears tend to die away unless they are resurrected as liberal reforms.
‘Conservative’ often shows up on one end of any given ideological spectrum. As a relative term, it helps describe the orientation of a particular person or idea, but it has different uses and meanings that are often poorly understood by the majority of people. Even within the context of politics, conservative and liberal often mean contradictory things, depending upon the subject at hand. Social conservatives, for example, may hold views that are incompatible with the views of economic, legal, judicial, and political conservatives. The same is true of liberals. Consequently, no one can be strictly conservative or liberal.
Terms like liberal and conservative are simply reference points. Here are two meaningful definitions, which can help people more consistently and accurately use the generic terms “conservative” and “liberal.” A conservative is something, or someone that defers to the current longstanding practices and views of the era when addressing issues. A liberal seeks to use novel or unconventional practices and views of the era when addressing issues.
More often than not, conservative and liberal views will contradict each other. It is, however, possible for self-proclaimed conservative and liberal ideologues to find middle ground on particular issues because their views are not solidly conservative or liberal on every front of a given issue. While these definitions provide a broad starting point, people should think and embrace their own beliefs instead of following the ideologies of others simply because they are labeled “liberal” or “conservative.”
When voting, people must seek to understand what politicians actually stand for, rather than simply supporting, or opposing, them based on labels or emotional ties. The powerful like to subtly transform language to fit their views of the world and change the meanings of words to meet their own needs. “Conservative” and “liberal” are just two terms that the political elite have narrowly defined in order to polarize the electorate and force voters to pick sides. Instead of just choosing sides, voters need to dissent when their interests are not represented and intellectually engage the proposed policies of the candidates, even if they like the candidate.
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