Political affiliation is perceived as something of an absolution: People are either democrat or republican, liberal or conservative. The truth is, these parties are not mutually exclusive, and our static understanding of the political spectrum creates a dangerous divide between people who associate themselves with either party.
Growing up in a largely conservative environment, and now, attending college in a very liberal atmosphere, I have noticed striking similarities in the perspectives of people who claim to be on opposite ends of the political spectrum. People are not one-dimensional, and neither are their political beliefs. Some are socially liberal but fiscally conservative, and others fight for wealth distribution while strongly advocating for gun rights. Both the Democratic and Republican Party hold positions on several issues, and it is natural that a citizen may identify with one party’s stance on certain issues, and agree with the other party on other issues.
We tend to view political affiliation as a horizontal spectrum, where the leftists are positioned on one end, and conservatives on the other. In reality, though, no one group is a monolith. Such perceptions make our differences seem irreconcilable. People who identify with each party feel that they are in the minority. Conservatives believe that popular culture is largely liberal and that Republicans are demonized in the media. On the contrary, liberals think Republicans are an impenetrable majority who are not as vocal in popular media but are power players in the systems that operate the country. Such a divide is built on a presupposition about people in the other party that is largely inaccurate.
We must first stop reducing people to their politics. Also, we must recognize that holding a blanket opinion of people in the opposite party is negligent and has dangerous implications. The key to bridging the gap is an open mind and a willingness to truly understand a perspective that is not our own. We can only be critical thinkers and valuable contributors to the marketplace of ideas when we are receptive to as many different perspectives as possible, and are able to sort through those perspectives to develop an informed opinion that has substance. We don’t have to agree with every opinion we encounter, but if we want to grow and progress, we have to listen with the intent to understand.