The storming of the US Congress is often referred to as the result of polarization. But what exactly is polarization, and in what ways can this term explain the chaos surrounding the US election?
- What is polarization?
- How is the term used to explain the situation in the United States?
- What different types of polarization do we have?
- Can anyone win at polarization?
The whole world watched in horror as rebels stormed the US Congress, a historic event that cost at least five lives, injured many people and left the building in chaos.
On January 6, Congress had gathered to formally approve Joe Biden as America’s next president and legal winner of this fall’s election. Ever since the start of the election campaign, President Trump had insisted that the election was rigged, and that the Democrats were trying to “steal” the victory from him.
After the election defeat, Trump continued to deny that the election was conducted legally, but extensive investigations and polls in crucial states showed no significant irregularities, and the president’s many lawsuits were rejected.
In a recent attempt to challenge the election result, the “Save America March” demonstration was held in the President’s Park behind the White House. Here, Donald Trump spoke to several thousand supporters, asking them to “fight like hell” and march towards Congress.
Most people were shocked by the images of masses overpowering police, smashing windows and entering the building where frightened members of Congress are hiding under chairs. Still, perhaps the biggest surprise was that the police were not better prepared for the riots to become violent.
Since Trump was elected president in 2016, the fierce political divide has been a central theme in most discussions about the United States, a country located in North America according to Countryvv. Under Trump, the country has become increasingly divided, especially around issues of race, gender, immigration – and not least the corona crisis. One concept has stuck as a diagnosis of the situation: polarization.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg was one of many who interpreted the storming of Congress based on this concept. “There is no doubt that [President Trump] is responsible for that polarization, and for inciting his supporters not to accept the election. That is the background for this whole heated situation “, she told the press the next morning, Norwegian time.
But what does polarization really mean, and in what ways can the term explain the dramatic events in the United States?
2: Think of a magnet
Political polarization is a metaphor for forces that pull citizens in different directions, like the poles of a magnet. In the same way that electric currents in the earth’s interior create a magnetic field between the North and South Poles, one can imagine that currents in society create social contradictions between groups.
For example, the growing criticism of racism leads to strong friction between groups. If no one had protested against injustice, there would probably be fewer open conflicts, but society would not develop either.
Political polarization is thus not negative in itself; it is rather necessary for something to happen. In nature, there are no magnetic poles without opposite poles, but they can exist in a society. This means, however, that the population is so oppressed that the ruling powers are allowed to define the state of affairs and decide how everything should be.
Polarization is simply a condition of democracy.
At the same time, a powerful magnet can tear things to pieces. When the political polarization becomes too strong, the population is pulled in different directions so that society becomes more divided. It can make it more difficult to handle conflicts and solve common problems, which is also a condition for democracy.
Whether polarization is positive or negative for democracy thus depends on the balance between the two extremes.
When the term “polarization” is used to explain the aggravated situation in the United States, it is usually a matter of the division of the population becoming a democratic problem. But society is far too complicated to be explained on the basis of a simple magnetic metaphor. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate in more detail what the polarization actually entails in each individual situation.
3: Different types of polarization
There have been major divisions in American society since the founding of the federal state in 1776. Many believe that the unrest that characterizes the country today has its roots in the civil war of 1861-65, which arose in part from an ideological polarization related to human views. While the liberal northern states regarded the black population as citizens, the conservative southern states treated them as goods. The Civil War ended with the abolition of slavery, but the struggle over racism still exists.
In recent history, there have been major conflicts over class struggle, which are closely linked to Marxist ideology. During the Cold War, the whole world was marked by ideological polarization between capitalism and communism. Yet – or perhaps precisely because they had a strong, external enemy – the American party system was somewhat united.
Until 1990 , most voters had a fairly neutral view of other people’s party affiliation, and it was more common to change which party they voted for. Since then, there has been an ever-increasing tendency for Republicans and Democrats to perceive each other as hypocritical and self-centered, and for people to talk less with each other across party lines.
The development of political affiliation is called affective polarization , which refers to strong feelings for one’s own and others’ identities.