With politics in America growing increasingly divisive, it’s becoming difficult for Americans to remember that our politicians in power are still people. Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Donald Trump contracting COVID-19, the response from opposing party lines has been far from empathetic.
Politics can get heated and Americans do have legitimate reasons and rights to feel however they please about those in power. But, if we lose sight of politicians’ humanity, then we can lose our sense of morality as a nation.
What seems evident, though, is how this culture of dehumanization has been created and encouraged among politicians themselves.
The negative implications of political dehumanization are boundless. The horrific atrocities committed in the 20th century– massacres, genocide, wars and other catastrophies– show just how dangerous dehumanization can become if unchecked and intensified instead. However, in these cases it was leaders themselves who propagated actual or perceived hatred against political opponents.
With the growing tensions and division espoused by our current leaders and candidates, America is at risk of going down a similar path.
With the growing tensions and division espoused by our current leaders and candidates, America is at risk of going down a similar path. Especially since the 2016 election, candidates have not shed away from openly insulting their opponents. Every day, American people themselves are not exempt from vitriol spewed by politicians.
One infamous example is a comment by Hilary Clinton during her 2016 presidential run, when she stated that most Trump supporters could be put into a “basket of deplorables.” When party leaders spout this rhetoric, it becomes easy for their supporters to accept this mantra creating further alienation among voters and the American people, as well as detachment from politicians.
This effect is clearly seen in the radicalization of Americans against those across party lines. A study published in the Washington Post, displayed that Democrats and Republicans alike easily labeled members of the opposing party as “animals” and “apelike.” This line of thinking encourages the belief that members of the other parties, each about 30% of the voter base, are somehow lesser Americans or enemies of the nation.
This ever-increasing growth of division and dehumanization of those we disagree with continues to be a major problem in America. In becoming disconnected from politicians, society inevitably becomes disconnected from the people represented in politics and policies as well.
This ever-increasing growth of division and dehumanization of those we disagree with continues to be a major problem in America.
This stark political divide is felt in every facet of the nation. Increased partisanship in the media has led to an increase in complete distrust of the news, a field traditionally meant to be a watchdog for the people. This belief is only enhanced by the repeated attacks by the President and other politicians on the media. Alternative sources of news information have become dangerous, as social media has been overrun with a wave of fake news in the past five years.
This dehumanization manifests most dangerously when it comes to public perception of minorities. A wave of populism in Europe in response to the increasing amount of immigration brought on by the 2015 refugee crisis has resulted in increasing far-right sentiments and groups throughout the continent. Similar occurrences are plaguing the United States. These far-right groups fester out of dehumanization and prejudice and have only grown in popularity in recent years.
What furthers that trend is the phenomenon of dog-whistle politics. This strategy was infamously outlined by Lee Atwater, campaign consultant for late President Ronald Reagan’s administration behind the Southern Strategy, who explained how politicians “can win the vote of racists without sounding racist themselves.” That trend manages to persist today and alters how politicians can convey messages of demonization.
As stated, dehumanizing politicians and politics can be dangerous. Forgetting the humanity of our leaders leads down a path to the dehumanization of all those who disagree with us politically. With that being said, it is no surprise that Americans are so quick to dehumanize politicians when, as explained, they are responsible for creating a dangerous and divisive culture of dehumanization in the first place.
Photo courtesy of Penn Today – University of Pennsylvania