The two major sides of the political spectrum seem to have an idealized enemy that is not representative of the entire party as a whole. Both liberals and conservatives alike use this straw man argument to identify their own party’s antithesis. They use stereotypes to create ugly portraits and reinforce them with cherry-picked examples of people who fit the mold of these political boogiemen.
For liberals, there is the idea of the racist hillbilly—the gun toting, anti-gay, pro-life, religious bigot who represents everything that is wrong with the Conservative Party. For conservatives, there is the image of the social justice warrior. Conservatives revert back to the example of the overly sensitive millennial who wishes to create safe spaces to hide away from critics or rhetoric that goes against their own echo chamber. The same way that the Conservative Party has an issue with racism, liberals have an issue with oversensitivity and, while well-meaning, an issue with censorship.
To back up their straw man argument, liberals are quick to point out Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s extremely bigoted rhetoric. His comments against Mexicans and Muslims as well as the party’s historic issues with racism have prevailed throughout his entire campaign.The underlying questions of whether or not the GOP is racist and what percentage of them are racist are difficult to answer.
Nate Silver and Allison McCann wrote a long blog in 2014 on this issue, comparing white democrats versus white republicans. They compiled data from the General Social Survey, a survey conducted by the University of Chicago that looks into beliefs of the citizens of the United States. While white republicans on average believe more strongly on seemingly racist ideology, the differences between the two compared groups are generally miniscule.
An overall index of negative racial attitudes from 1990 to 2012 shows a downward trend in both white democrats and white republicans. Even the difference between the two groups is only 8 percent, so the partisan divide exists, but only minimally. Twenty-seven percent of white republicans and 19 percent of white democrats agree on certain negative racial attitudes. If the GOP does indeed have an issue with race, it does not seem that the issue is as big as liberals would like to make it out to be.
As for conservatives, there are cases of liberalism gone wrong that can be referred to in order to reinforce their negative ideas of liberals. Two events that highlight this are the Black Lives Matter protest at the University of Missouri and the Melissa Click incident in 2015, where a photojournalist’s First Amendment rights were violated in order to create a safe space.
Conservative brawler and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos toured several colleges within the United States last year. He is a controversial figure whose presence led to mass protest and attempts to stop him from speaking.
His critics see him as a hatemonger and see this as enough reason to stop him from coming to their campuses. While censorship in this case is well-intended in order to avoid offense, it goes too far. The condemnation of uncomfortable discourse limits the open exchange of ideas. The fear of being offended is not an excuse to censor someone.
The same way that racism is not reflective of conservative ideology, sensitivity is not reflective of democrats. This is not a shaming of progressive ideas or culture. Rather, it is important to point out what extreme and unproductive forms to which these ideas can lead.
The conversation should not be focused on whether or not conservatives are racist or whether or not liberals are overly sensitive. Rather, the conversation should be about addressing that there is poison in both wells. It should become about addressing the negative aspects on both sides of the spectrum.
It is important to understand that there are people who do not subscribe to these stereotypes and that there are many more nuances within the spectrum of politics. By understanding that these boogiemen do not exist, or at least that they are not as prevalent as media would have you believe, political discourse can return to the exchange of ideas that it should be and not the ad hominem attacks that it has become.