Americans of all ideological stripes are growing more intolerant of people who don’t share their political outlook.
According to a Cato Institute survey released this summer, fifty percent of “strong liberals” support the idea of firing business executives who donate to President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign—an unsurprising (though still appalling) statistic, given the growing embrace of “cancel culture” among the far left in American politics.
However, it’s not just the far left in America’s progressive movement who have a disturbing intolerance for political diversity. As it turns out, more than a third of “strong conservatives” also support firing executives who donate to their political opposition.
Our obsessively partisan political climate in America is driving this trend of intolerance, with more Americans each year subscribing to the notion that anyone who disagrees with them must somehow be silenced or shamed into submission.
It’s a disturbing trend, to be sure. However, it was also completely predictable, given the degree to which political debates have permeated virtually every corner of our modern life.
From football games to social media, it seems as though every aspect of our daily lives have been touched by political debate and controversy. In the age of coronavirus, perhaps masks are the greatest example of how even mundane activities—such as the personal decision to wear or not wear a mask during a global pandemic—have turned into impassioned political statements.
This politicization of everything isn’t the result of a hyper partisan culture—it’s part of the reason for it. Like the mask controversy in the age of coronavirus, most of the things in our daily lives that have become political did so because government got involved in the first place. And to interject government into an aspect of our lives is to interject political controversy.
In fact, this is precisely why government is not well equipped to control things like education, healthcare or retirement—because government control inevitably means such important areas of our lives will become campaign fodder for partisan politicians.
When government controls huge swaths of our economic and social lives through regulation, taxation and direct monopoly control (such as education), partisan politics suddenly have tremendous impact on how Americans are allowed to live their lives.
With that understanding, on some level, outrage and obsessively partisan political disagreements suddenly start to make some sense. The potential impact of an election has driven the American political culture into an ever-increasingly partisan mindset—and with such tribalism comes an increasing intolerance and disdain for opposing views and intellectual diversity.
With larger government, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid political conflict—and that conflict itself grows more intense as the stakes of political rivalries grow ever larger.
Both “strong liberals” and “strong conservatives” likely agree on at least one thing: Politics have become more important than ever before. Each year, pundits on both extremes confidently tell us “this election might be the most important of our lifetime” because, quite simply, they believe it to be so. And given the way that government—under both Republican and Democrat control— has continued to grow year after year, they’re not exactly wrong. Every election year it seems as if the political outcome will result in one party or the other exerting even more control over how Americans are permitted to live in our normal, everyday, lives.
Or, to put it another way, election outcomes have a profound impact on normal Americans because we have surrendered so much control over our economic and social lives to the politicians we put into office.
It should be unsurprising that such an environment breeds a culture obsessed with partisan political battles, where diversity of thought is seen as a threat that must be stamped out rather than a virtue worth defending and encouraging.
If we’re serious about saving the classically liberal principles of free speech and intellectual diversity—more importantly, if we’d like to live in a nation where we don’t fear the wrath of an angry mob for merely voicing an unpopular or politically “incorrect” opinion—we should focus on reducing the power we delegate to government over “we the people.”
After all, if politicians don’t have the ability to control how we live our lives, it will suddenly matter a whole lot less to most Americans whether or not any of us are seen as part of the same partisan tribe.
Michael Schaus is Communications Director at Nevada Policy Research Institute