Editors’ Note: A different version of this article was published in The MArk.
It is a common thread in American politics that each party and its followers demonize the other. This tribalism has created a deeply polarized country, thus making toleration and respect more unachievable than before. For the past decade, the divide has grown stronger and people have become more hostile towards one another.
The Pew Research Center found in 2014 that 27% of Democrats view Republicans as a threat to the nation’s well-being and 36% Republicans view Democrats as a threat to nation’s well-being. In addition to this growing divide, politicians and party supporters have become more hateful and disrespectful towards one another. Within the two parties lay blatant hypocrisy on the Democratic side. Liberals tout the virtues of tolerance and M-A claims to have strength in diversity, however many liberals generalize all right-leaning as racist, sexist, and xenophobic–a claim that is both uncivil and misrepresenting vast variety of people.
Silicon Valley, and M-A in particular, is home to concentrated liberalism. Unfortunately, this hotbed of liberalism has created a malicious atmosphere (according to Republicans) for some M-A students who identify with more right-leaning politics. Senior Lauren Collinsworth said she “isn’t very politically opinionated” but commented on her experience facing hatred from liberals.
“With my brothers,” she said, “I’ve seen the way that they have been treated. [Liberals] assume that they’re pieces of garbage and that they are horrible people.” Collinsworth said that “people portray [Republicans] as awful people, especially with the media today it even more emphasizes that they are awful people and they’re just not. Obviously there are some really, really bad people but those are the only ones that get the spotlight on them.”
She continued, “I think it is just unfair because that is how all Republicans are seen.” Collinsworth says, “We aren’t just the white trash Southerners yelling ‘Yeah! White Confederacy!’ People need to stop generalizing us.” Collinsworth believes that to overcome the divide that has polarized our country “Everyone should be accepting of each other. We are trying to be accepting of everybody and everybody’s cultures and religions and stuff, so why can’t we be accepting of people’s political views?” Although Lauren Collinsworth is not a politically opinionated person, she has still felt disparaged by her classmates.
M-A junior Francesco Vial has experienced social backlash and educational repercussions from students and teachers as a result of expressing his conservative views on immigration and abortion. Vial contended that “we are all trying to find a way to construct our society in the most sound and orderly way possible, to keep everybody happy and I hold those [conservative] beliefs because I think that is the best set of solutions of how society should run in general.” Although he said this year is an improvement, he has experienced his fair share of “English teachers, they’ll say they are open to all opinions and what not, but then when it actually comes to the point where there is, indeed, a rather different opinion, they don’t know how to handle it. I think in some situations they default into a more comfortable space of an echo-chamber […] If I were to generalize.”
Vial has had many experiences in which people get offended by his beliefs. He has encountered both the subtle and the blatant hate from being conservative at M-A. Most times “people carry a very specific tone of ‘I’m going to stay away from you and I don’t want to be associated with you,’” said Vial. Other times Vial said he has been called names: “last year in my Spanish class, someone called me a Nazi.”
However, Vial says that being called a Nazi didn’t change his perspective on liberals. “That person was just a bad apple out of the group. I’m not going to start to demonize liberals because first of all, that would be hypocritical and second of all, it would be unproductive.” Vial’s social environment has also suffered from his political beliefs. “Last year I lost quite a lot of friends […] they didn’t want to be associated with someone with my beliefs.” He said he now “is weirdly desensitized” to the anger people feel towards him. He thinks it is important that “everyone thinks through their political beliefs […] looking into the philosophy behind these ideologies. We need to strive to see and understand the ideology behind politics. If I were to label myself I would be a paleoconservative but nobody knows what that means.”
A paleoconservative refers more to the basic principles of the conservatism–tradition, limited Federal government, and civility, along with religious, national, and Western identity. We need to educate people on all political beliefs in order to understand each other better. Vial believes that in order to break down the divide between liberals and conservatives we need to “encourage those who want to get rid of the divide to start speaking up.” The first step in uniting politically different people is to encourage people to talk in a respectful way.
Junior Callie Meyer also believes that her Republican political beliefs have affected her educational experience. She said, “with teachers, I have gotten some grades that seem a little bit skewed or biased. I will say in socratic seminars there have definitely been times where I am the only [conservative] saying anything and people will walk up to me and say ‘oh I agreed with you but I was kind of afraid to say that because there were people so harshly criticizing you.’”
However, there are “teachers who recognize that they are in this position of teaching these topics and rather than trying to not really be clear on what their position is and unintentionally influencing students, they are very open about their position” and encourage new opinions or ideas. Meyer said that “if you aren’t 100% accepting of everyone then you are immediately labeled as a racist, or a transphobe, or a homophobe […] and then equated with people who are much more extreme than you are.” The junior says that by now she has learned that she “should keep [her] mouth shut in the classroom and avoid politics.”
She continued, “I stay quiet so that I won’t be alienated.” She also said that most conservatives have the same mindset that she has, “it’s better to keep your mouth shut. If I want to talk about it, I talk about it one-on-one with people.” Even though Meyer has felt alienated in the classroom, she has not felt the social consequences that other conservatives at M-A have experienced. She stated, “one of my friends is very liberal, we have very different opinions and we are still amazingly close. Majority of my friends are liberal and we see each other as friends. If we need to have those [political] conversations and have those debates we will say ‘okay, here is where we draw the line.’”
Meyer says it is necessary to find middle ground between liberals and conservatives and “many people don’t understand that if they are yelling the loudest doesn’t mean they necessarily win the argument. I’ve noticed that a lot in classroom debates that people will just start yelling.” We need to hear what other people are saying before we make our point so the situation does not escalate.