There has been no shortage of advertisement about how important the upcoming midterm elections are. For the first time in several years, the United States could see a flip of the Senate in favor of the Democratic party, which would be a huge victory for them and a devastating loss for the Republican party. But throughout this battle for seats, we’ve seen how nasty political races can get, and the outcome of these races could be polarization unlike anything our nation’s seen thus far.
Ever since the election of Trump in 2016, our nation has become the most partisan it has been in a long time. It’s become rare to see Democrats and Republicans getting along with each other, much less creating policy that satisfies both parties. If you really look at it, partisan policy-making at all has become a thing of the past as the Republican-dominated government has the power to push through any legislation they want and also chip away at and repeal any legislation they want.
This toxic behavior from both parties has created a sort of no man’s land between the two parties where no politician dares to venture. In the upcoming midterms, this divide between the parties has become even more apparent as candidates try everything they possibly can to bring their opponent down even one peg. We’ve seen everything from ad hominem attacks and thinly veiled insults during interviews to Tweets blatantly outing their opponent as lesser than them.
A lot of these tactics aren’t new, but there seems to be more public response to such statements. For example, Georgia governor candidate Brian Kemp received serious criticism for having a video on his website explaining how to properly vote early: Have the lone African-American voter fail to bring proper ID and therefore not be allowed to vote. After this was discovered the video went viral, and there was a substantial outcry from Georgia citizens on several social media outlets saying that Kemp clearly believed that African-American and other minority voters were incapable of voting properly. Since then Kemp’s actions have been closely monitored, and he has been under constant fire from Stacey Abrams, his opponent, the American Civil Liberties Union and Democrats in the state. On the other side, though, Kemp supporters have been calling out Abrams for things she has said and recently have attacked her role in burning the state flag during the 1992 protest outside the Capitol building. The tension between the parties has grown so thick that you could cut with a knife.
Georgia is far from the only state where such jabs and attacks from the public have been occurring. In the Texas race, Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke and Republican candidate Ted Cruz have been at each other’s necks for months. This is largely because O’Rourke has received extensive support from Democrats across the nation for running against favorite Cruz, and it seems like Cruz is starting to feel the heat. One of the most public jabs Cruz has given happened at a rally last week in Georgetown. Someone in the crowd called for O’Rourke to be locked up, and Cruz responded by saying, “Well, you know, there’s a double-occupancy cell with Hillary Clinton.” He received substantial backlash from Democrats across the nation for saying this but was held up by his Republican supporters for saying it.
This sort of political banter can even be seen on our campus. Two weeks ago, when the Stanford College Republicans put up a table in White Plaza with a sign that read, “I believe Brett Kavanaugh is innocent until proven guilty. Change my mind,” there was significant backlash by students on campus. This situation escalated to the point where the president of the club, John Rice-Cameron, filed batter charges against another student, Melinda Hernandez, alleging that she pushed him while they were tabling. Here is an example of how heated disagreements can become between two people with opposing viewpoints and what can happen as a result.
I believe there are certain topics where there is no middle ground to be reached because one side of the issue is simply the correct one, such as the existence of Global Warming, rights for LGBTQ people and people of color, and women’s rights. Where the middle ground needs to be reached is on legislation concerning issues where it is least likely for both parties to completely agree on, such as health care and taxes. Right now, however, I do not think our nation is getting any closer to fixing this problem of polarization.
If we continue on this track of extreme political polarization, our nation will never begin to recover how much it is losing with Trump as president. The upcoming midterms provide a chance for the Democratic party to gain back precious seats in the Senate, a extremely crucial step towards steering our nation back in the right direction, but also at the potential cost of nationwide, large-scale productivity until the next presidential election.
Contact Alex Durham at alex ‘at’ stanford.edu.