Without question the most polarized the United States has ever been was during the years of the late-Antebellum era and the Civil War. During this time, the tension between Democrats and Republicans was uncanny. The battle over slavery within the United States raged on eventually resulting in the loss of an estimated 620,000 men. However, this hostility was present long before the war as members of Congress clamored over the idea of slavery.
One such instance came in February of 1858 with an altercation between Pennsylvania Republican Galusha Grow and South Carolina Democrat Laurence Keitt. It started as a rife debate. The men exchanged insults that quickly turned to blows. According to the Congressional Globe, “the House was in the greatest possible confusion,” as numerous politicians from both sides of the aisle joined in the melee.
Today Congress is much less likely to have a brawl inside its chambers. They would rather fight on social media from their congressional offices, inside an online echo chamber. This sad reality can be seen time and time again within the halls of Congress. Congressional debate is virtually dead.
For example, the day the House debated the articles of impeachment against President Trump, most, if not all, members of Congress came onto the floor to give their reason for their vote on the resolution and then leave. It is truly an atrocity of what debate in Congress has become.
The American political system was founded upon the Founding Fathers reaching numerous compromises in the creation of this great land. This phenomenon has occurred many times in American history. It happened between the plans of Virginia and New Jersey representatives in the culmination of the Great Compromise in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Later in our nation’s history, there was the Missouri Compromise, prohibiting slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line.
Even after the Civil War there was the Compromise of 1877, which decided the result of the 1876 presidential election and ended Reconstruction. But now debate and deliberation have become a sideshow in Congress rather than a forum to change opinions. This could be chalked up to progressive era reform within Congress due to the rise of the administrative state. However, the changes to debate within the Beltway can be seen today not just in the modern Congress, but throughout the country as the political landscape has vastly changed.
With the rise of the Industrial Age to numerous wars throughout the 20th century, and with the creation of the internet, America has prospered. The rise of digitalization in society has also managed to jeopardize many western ideas, especially in how people think. This has managed to create echo chambers. With this rise in technology, information is easier to obtain than ever. Today over half of the world has access to the internet.
As America becomes ever more polarized, the decay of the western ideals such as free markets, democracy, and inalienable rights has become ever prevalent within today’s society. The dichotomy between liberals and conservatives continues to widen. This problem is further exacerbated due to numerous issues, such as factionalized social media and a lack of objective standards.
Thus, Americans on all parts of the political spectrum should ask themselves how to bridge this gap if people are not discussing dissenting ideas amongst each other. How could you do so in two confined ideological echo chambers? Would the United States still be able to prosper, or would we become a primitive society of hyperpartisanship?
Although it’s impossible to answer these types of “what if” statements, the possible consequences of these ideas coming to fruition should scare people on both sides of the aisle. Therefore, people must depart from the echo chambers that they have created for their political ideology, both online and in reality, and speak freely about the issues plaguing the nation. Those who dare step out of “safe spaces” can take on a more critical worldview due to being more informed than others.
The ideological echo chambers that conservatives and liberals are both inside needs to be shattered. It is only then when we may see the positive ramifications that free speech can have on society. John Adams said, “Let us dare to read, think, speak and write,” so let’s dare to face differing opinions in the hope of a clearer worldview.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.