Political Satire Has Ruined Bi-Partisanship


Monday, April 30, 2018

Although American voters have historically been divided by their respective political views and party alignment, political satire polarized the opinions of the American people during the 2016 election, creating a furious animosity between the Republican and Democratic parties not seen in previous elections.

Since 1994, the people’s negative views of the opposing party has skyrocketed. A pew research poll found that 38% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans view the opposing party in “strongly negative terms.” In fact, many partisans hold the belief that the policies of their conflicting political party are “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being”.

A lack of respect for opposing opinions is becoming the norm in the American political scene, and the polarization of American politics is both visible and calculable. The root of this increasing divide is debatable, though political satire has had some hand in the shifting attitudes in American politics.

Satire has become an integral part of American politics and many modern Americans take satire seriously. In a poll conducted by Time Magazine on who Americans believe is the most “trusted” newscaster, two-fifths of participants voted for satirist Jon Stewart, who beat out many established journalists. In fact, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart had significantly higher nightly ratings than CNN in 2009.

This is dangerous because many Americans are perceiving current events through a biased lense with little context or objectivity, creating cynicism in viewers. While political satire does increase knowledge of current events, the vehicle for this increased awareness is inherently biased, as the nature of satire is innately critical of politicians, political processes, and news media. On average, people who watch satire report lower trust for the government, no matter who is in office or which party they support.

While there are many benefits to increased awareness of current events and wariness of government, this also creates a societal divide because people from one political party are less likely to trust those from the others, or do not want to be associated with those of different political stances. This makes people less cooperative and agitates relations between people of opposing political philosophies.

Saturday Night Live depicted Donald Trump in an extremely negative light, yet pulled punches on Hillary Clinton. The “Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton Cold Open” sketch mocked Trump’s policies, intelligence, and character, yet left Clinton very much untouched. The sketch treated Trump as though he is a sexist, racist, joke candidate with no chance of winning the election, while Clinton was portrayed as so charismatic and intelligent that she didn’t even need to take the debate seriously.

After the 2008 presidential election, a poll published by Reuters revealed that the votes of about ten percent of voters polled on election day were, in some way, influenced by Saturday Night Live. By attacking Trump, SNL vilifies him as a presidential candidate and denigrates his character, increasing the left-leaning audience’s hostility towards Trump and building upon the sentiment that those who support him are misguided or have opinions the left perceives as negative.

Political internet memes created by members of both sides of the political spectrum permeated throughout the web, causing what many referred to as a “meme war” and further divided the online community. Many different subsections of the online community “Reddit,” such as “r/The_Donald”, “r/SandersForPresident”, and “r/HillaryClinton,” posted comedic images which lifted their respective candidate of choice and viciously attacked the others. For example, one image from a pro-Clinton board depicts a sweaty, nervous man, who is meant to be a Trump supporter, torn between pressing two buttons: one which reads, “Ban all Muslims because a few of them are terrorists” and another which reads, “You can’t blanket all gun owners because a few of them commit mass shootings.” Not only does this portray a perceived contradiction in Trump’s political policies, but it also associates a moderately-right view with an extremely-right view, weaving the illusion, via an association fallacy, that all Trump supporters want to ban all Muslims from our country. The use of the phrase “all Muslims” insinuates that Trump and his supporters vilify a huge portion of people within our own country, and it implies an inherent threat to all domestic and foreign Muslims under a Trump presidency, to which viewers might see Trump supporters as insensitive.

Because of this and similar anti-Trump arguments, Trump supporters are widely viewed as bigots, and this form of political rhetoric is a large contributor to the distrust between parties and part of the reason each political party believes that the other is a threat to the overall well-being of the nation.

Despite living in a democratic society, much of the American populace currently holds enmity towards those of opposing views largely because of the satirization of the candidates and beliefs of both sides throughout the 2016 election. Satirical mediums have fostered an intense, unprecedented animosity between followers of specific politicians.

Political comics, satirical video, and internet memes have all contributed to polarized political opinions and disrespectful or even hostile attitudes. Our country is losing its capacity for respectful and open discussions of ideas, an important function of a democracy, which is a trend I dearly hope will end soon.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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