Opinion: Danger of confusing people with ideas


Ethan Hunt, Reporter

Twitter user @sadkimberly tweeted Aug. 20:

“an ISU professor put on there [SIC] syllabus ‘If you are racist or homophobic on purpose i will dismiss you from class’ and republicans are literally calling for her to be fired. and you’re going to tell me that republicans aren’t shit human beings. okay.”


The takeaway from this tweet is that Republicans are bad people. This sentiment is echoed on both sides of the political spectrum, with Republican pundits such as Jesse Watters saying Democrats have aligned themselves with “looters, arsonists, and homicidal maniacs.” While democratically leaning news sites such as Slate have accused republicans of being “thugs and Nazis.” This rhetoric from major news organizations has a massive effect on the average person’s view of their political opposites and is a cause for the hatred that many Americans have for their fellow citizens. 

The idea is not that Republican or Democratic ideals are bad. No, the people who harbor these ideals are. A poll done by Axios in 2018 found that 23% of Republicans would describe Democrats as evil, and 21% of Democrats feel the same about Republicans. Some recognize the danger and self-defeating nature of this attitude, but not the many proponents of it. If those looking for support on the other side of the aisle wish to find it, then this attitude must change.

Social media platforms are inherently provocative. They reward and actively encourage controversy. Making people angry gets likes, retweets and Monday night cable TV views. Controversy is an unfortunate reality of selling news. 

However, if this attitude is allowed to become the standard by which we treat each other —the attitude that the other side’s people are the problem and not their views — it removes all opportunities for discourse. If someone writes off their political adversary as a bad person, someone who is so corrupted by their political ideals that changing their mind is out of the question, what can they do? They cannot sit down and discuss their differences because it would inevitably devolve into violence.++

Some would blame President Donald Trump for this polarization.  While he shares some blame, this issue is too complicated to fault one person. This division does not go away with Trump. It is an American problem and Trump is a side effect, not the cause. If we continue to correlate the character of people with their political disposition, we will find ourselves at a place of no return. There, the only answer to our problem is violence against our fellow citizens, as has already been the case in some Black Lives Matter demonstrations, such as the ones in Seattle, as well as alt-right protests like in  Charlottesville, Virginia. 

These situations represent the extreme, not the norm. But, if the rhetoric of hating the people and not their ideas continues, then they may become the norm. The issue we have is with each other. So how do we fix it? A simple start would be to stop condemning the other side’s supporters on social media and condemn their ideals instead. You can change a person’s opinions. But if we trap ourselves in the notion that the opposition’s people — living, breathing, loving, human beings — are the problem, then there is no longer room for conversation.