Opinions can be ever changing by nature of how learning and understanding information works. They are often, however, hard-wired into us to the point that they behave as unchangeable facts and fixed parts of who we are. This manifests itself in politics, where steadfast opinions help maintain our two-party political system, a system that reinforces our steadfast opinions. We exist in a state of circular logic that perpetuates both political polarization and unwillingness to change.
Before discussing more about the two party system, I feel it is important to note the makeup of the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor. Both are very much left-leaning in terms of political ideology. Because of this, the readership of this article will likely be left-leaning as well. At the University, perspectives that lean left are viewed as cultured and tolerant, while those that lean right are perceived negatively and are associated with hatred, bigotry and intolerance.
For as much as the right can be painted as the enemy, both sides of the spectrum fall victim to similar traps in which they reconfirm their own ideals without exposure to dissenting opinions. This closed-off environment causes each party to become an echo chamber for their respective ideologies.
LSA senior Lindsay Keiser, editor in chief of both the Michigan Journal of Political Science and the Michigan Review, spoke to The Michigan Daily about the effect of echo chambers on our campus. She told me that “Michigan is proudly an echo chamber precisely because professors perpetuate the leftist rhetoric … I rarely defend my beliefs when they’re ridiculed because, after four years of being told that valuing laissez-faire economics and deregulated social policy makes me an uneducated bigot, I realized there is no point in fighting.”
With that said, Keiser did give credit where credit is due in acknowledging that many of her political science professors are “actually quite unbiased,” even as many of her earth science, astronomy and business lectures tend to be quite “rife with comments disparaging Trump, conservatism and laissez-faire economics.”
It makes complete sense why political science professors are most sensitive to using unbiased rhetoric — they are careful to avoid political bias because normative political questions are intended to be explored implicitly in the context of the classroom. It is disappointing that other faculty and students are often not as sensitive to partisan rhetoric.
So, what can the University do to improve? Keiser emphasized the importance of encouraging professors “to work as hard as possible to refrain from making partisan commentary from the classroom.” As one of our largest influences, the knowledge we obtain in the classroom should not impose anything upon students or make certain students feel unheard or cornered into a certain view.
Aside from the need for improvement in some areas, there are some places in which the University does address these issues very well. For example, Keiser stated that “the University is actually quite good at checking in with right-wing students who are attacked on campus.” She mentions the Ford School of Public Policy as a space for “very mature conversations about a wide range of social and economic issues with diverse perspectives about the ‘right’ policy solution.” The School of Public Policy has plenty of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion resources for reporting incidents of bias or harassment in any form, including based on politics. Though there is a long road to complete political acceptance and open conversation, this gives us hope that there are some resources available to aid in easing the harsh nature of our political atmosphere.
Unfortunately, for young people in Ann Arbor, liberal agendas have become performative in many ways. For example, I have witnessed countless screaming matches in the Diag — often relating to a conservative, sometimes hateful, and liberal clash of viewpoints — for which a decent-sized crowd will start to gather.
With that said, action from the left — whether it be nationwide protests or “drama” in the Diag — is often motivated by feelings of oppression. In situations of oppression, vehemence is often the only way to be heard. Thus, the performative nature of left-wing politics is sometimes entirely valid and could be argued to be for a better cause than violence or hate speech from the right. However, performative left-wing politics can instill negativity just in the way the hate-filled speech of the right does, albeit differently. Former President Barack Obama reaffirms the left’s rejection of hateful language in saying that “we should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments.”
Many on the left define themselves by their perceived moral superiority to the right. To me, this seems counterintuitive to everything the left stands for and why I identify as a liberal. Tolerance, education and acceptance are all qualities that drew me to this ideology, not hate and negativity.
Instead of dwelling in our echo chambers and hearing our own opinions repeated back to us, we should explore what exactly the right is saying and why they believe what they do. Progressivism is about accepting different backgrounds. For many, their background might not have educated them on systemic racism or LGBTQ+ rights.
How can one really understand the world by ignoring a whole section of it? It is not that everyone has to agree with what the other side says, but we do ourselves a disservice by alienating conservatives, resisting any kind of contact with them and failing to explore what that ideology might mean or why they might hold the views they do.
The system works to make the political spectrum appear more polarized than it really is. Any attempt to understand each other and our conflicting opinions will only help us better understand the world. If the right is criticized for being close-minded, the same can be said for the left and its inability to open itself up to people who might not align perfectly with its ideology. Let’s make an effort to pause when we speak about politics and listen to others in order to create an understanding rather than to just express our own ideas.
Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.