Has There Always Been This Much Anger and Polarization in American Politics?

Hey y’all, I hope you don’t mind an honest question. The first time I could vote was in 1992, for the Bush/Clinton election. As I was young and such, I only had a passing interest in politics, but I found as I get older I’m gaining more and more interest.

However, one thing I’m noticing in that, to me at least, all of this anger and polarization between parties, people of different beliefs and ideologies and so on seems to be a very recent thing. I don’t recall seeing the types of stories on the nightly news in the 1990s, or even the early 2000s, that I’m seeing today, for example, nor do I recall people being so polarized.

So am I wrong that politics just seems more…bitter and angry than it has in previous years, or am I just paying more attention? If it’s the former, then why? I’m really confused by all the folks that just can’t seem to get along on nearly anything anymore.

Thanks folks.

Historically: yes.

The postwar consensus of the 1950s-1970s was a historical aberration. American politics has always been pretty vicious otherwise.

I think it has always been there. Granted there was never the radio shows or TV networks encouraging it but I think the hardcore politicos were always like this.

Pretty much from the beginning (30s is the good part).

I do think in the old days individuals argued philosophy, and today they argue sound bites.

Fish, that video is great.

Okay, thanks guys, in a way I’m relieved this isn’t new, but sad that it’s been going on for so long.

Except for , you know, that year in the middle there when the president was assassinated.

There was a lot of nastiness about Kennedy’s religion.

Dixiecrats, Black Panthers, KKK, race riots, Viet Nam war, Love it or Leave it, Change it or Lose it, McCarthyism, Black List, Enemies List - things are a lot calmer now, in general. There’s a certain edge admittedly brought about by polarizing forces such as the “Born-Again Christians”, Tea Baggers (we’re not racists! See? We just threw out yet another howling racist who was leading our local group!), and Lock-Step Take No Prisoners Republicans in general (if you don’t agree with them, you are a RiNO - Republican in Name Only).

Basically, it’s the right wing reacting against the sixties and seventies where they lost their religious and racial grip on America.

Ahhhhhh, that’s interesting. I’ve been wondering if they’re losing even more of their grip, which is making them, to me at least, seem more fanatical.

And then Johnson-Goldwater as well as the 1968 Democratic Convention was a love-fest. So it has never been bean-bag. I think, though, that you are right that there is more polarization; never before have people so been able to create their own personal and media bubbles reinforcing their own beliefs. This, as well as a public more receptive and less judgmental in regards to bare-knuckles language (I surely could be mistaken but I don’t recall any modern election when both campaigned called the other “Liars” flat-out directly in the media) makes it even more rough and tumble in practice if not in spirit than in years past.

Go read up on early American politics, per Civil-War, and post-Reconstruction. Nasty partisan politics is the norm.

I think the Internet has had a lot to do with the modern polarization we’re seeing. People, for the first time, are able to form groups of like minded people. They can, socially, almost completely avoid people who don’t share their views.

I agree with Brad, and I think we’ll find that this is one of the biggest negative impacts the internet will make on society.

I disagree.

I think before the internet and before television, individuals were simply physically isolated to their small communities. Being a member of a party meant being in the same club as the rest of your family, your neighbors, your pastor, and basically everyone you interacted with on a daily basis. News and happenings in the world were learned from newspapers, who had no pretense of neutrality when it came time to pound a political point.

That being stated, I think the internet and 24 hour news cable does effective political discourse in another important way. Today, it seems far more issues have become politicized and worth fighting to last ditch. I think I remember an old SNL skit when Rehnquist presided over the Senate during the Clinton impeachment, where every vote came down to a strictly partisan divide, including whether to get pizza or Chinese for lunch. In the past, there was more wiggle room to vote against the party line for regional interests.

I actually think this particular election cycle is better than many recent ones. Less polarizing, less… stupid really. Not that that means it is good.

You’re assuming that small, geographically isolated communities were more ideologically homogeneous; even if one party tended to dominate, the parties themselves used to be much more ideologically diverse. As regionalism as a driving party dynamic has faded somewhat, both parties have become more ideologically pure. In a small town, despite some social pressures to confirm, you were going to have diversity of opinion and also would be forced to interact with those not sharing your beliefs.

Today, as Brad and I pointed out, you can build social and media networks that exclude sources that provide a dissenting opinion. If one so chooses, you can populate your facebook, twitter, etc., visit news and opinion sites, and watch cable channels that cater only to one’s own strand of opinion. You can completely wall out dissenting opinions. This has lead to a feedback loop that encourages dehumanization of those who hold differing opinions by both sides.

The 24-hour news channels with their constant need to get eyeballs on the screen have made things much much worse than they were, say, in the 70s or even the 80’s.

I think the tribal polarization is more severe now than it has been for the last 50 years, at least.

However, it was never exactly a cordial collaboration between the parties on behalf of the republic even at the best of times, and mid-19th century politics were even worse than today.

And the left wing has been perfect gentlemen throughout the years. Damn straight.