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The Danger of Hyper-Partisanship: Normalizing Terror in America

Illustration: Kathryn Hood

I am Jewish, but I do not go to temple often. I only go when I’m celebrating the occasional Bar Mitzvah or Yom Kippur. I uncharacteristically found myself sitting in the third row of my synagogue for Friday night services Nov. 2, beside my weeping mother.

On that particular Friday night, Jews across the United States made an effort to fill the seats of their synagogues in honor of the 11 people who fell victim to the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27. Listening to my rabbi boldly title my generation the “Massacre Generation” made me realize the harsh truth of the America I know: an America that normalizes terror.

One of the first shootings I vividly remember hearing about was when James Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012 and killed 12 people while they were watching the new Batman movie. He walked into the theater dressed as the Joker, equipped with an AR-15, a shotgun and two handguns. He killed 12 and left 58 more critically injured.

The news channel showed some of the most graphic images I had ever seen. For a long time after that shooting, I was scared to go to the movie theater – and I still have not seen “The Dark Knight Rises.”

After that summer, I entered fourth grade. December came around and everybody at my Jewish day school was getting excited for Hanukkah. I had pretty much forgotten about the Aurora shooting, and it seemed like everybody else had, too. On Dec. 14, 2012, the world shook.

The continuous repetition of these two words made it impossible for me to ever forget that date: Sandy Hook. Adam Lanza killed 20 students and six teachers before killing himself at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Overwhelmed with confusion and sadness, I still went to school the following Monday.

April 15, 2013 marks the day that Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed three people and injured hundreds more in the Boston Marathon bombing. I will never forget coming inside the house from playing tennis and seeing the look of horror on my parents’ faces as they watched the news.

June 12, 2016 marks the day that Omar Saddiqui Mateen opened fire inside Pulse, a gay nightclub, in Orlando. This hate crime killed 49 people and injured 50. The LGBTQ+ community around the world rose up in solidarity against this tragedy.

Despite the magnitude of this terror and the unity it inspired, America seems to have forgotten the 49 people who will never live another day. Today, they are just another statistic. The shootings do not stop. The terror does not end.

The Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 1, 2017. The Texas church shooting on Nov. 5, 2017. The Parkland shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. The Santa Fe shooting on May 18, 2018. Recently, the Tree of Life shooting on Oct. 27, 2018. The Tallahassee yoga studio shooting on Nov. 2, 2018. The Thousand Oaks bar shooting on Nov. 7, 2018. By the time this piece is published, I’m positive there will be more.

These acts of terror follow each other like the repetitive beats of an awful song nobody knows how to turn off. The song will continue to play for as long as the listeners let it run. The inability for America’s political parties to compromise sadly ensures that the song will never end.

America today is divided into two factions: Democrat and Republican. We point fingers at those who do not share political views similar to our own, and we strip ourselves of the one thing we all have in common: humanity.

The purpose of political parties is to jointly arrive at decisions on how America should be governed. Unfortunately, increased animosity between political parties only encourages more terror.

Political parties are essential for people to classify their opinions, but they are potentially toxic. If we are not more receptive to other opinions, we will never be able to put an end to the continuous cycle of terror that plagues America.

We are so busy labeling ourselves and bashing on members of the opposite party that we have forgotten what it means to compromise. When we identify ourselves based solely on these two titles and cram ourselves into only one of two boxes, we encourage a polarizing divide that shakes the foundations upon which this nation stands.

It is this precise divide that George Washington himself feared. When the nation’s first president stepped down from office, he warned the American people of the dangers hyper-partisanship would bring. “I was no party man myself,” Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “and the first wish of my heart was, if parties did exist, to reconcile them.”

Writer Lee Drutman, who is currently working on a book about the crisis of America’s two-party system, shared his fear of doom-loop partisanship in a Vox piece published Sept. 5, 2017. “When division involves purity and impurity, when it devolves into a pure contest between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – then there is no bargaining because there are no negotiable principles, just team loyalties,” wrote Drutman. “We are now deep into a crisis.”

Drutman is right. The 2016 presidential election, often regarded as the most polarized race in American history, showed the irrefutable split among the American people – and the hatred for the other party that many politicians feel. The race was between a so-called “racist, sexist, deplorable man” and a so-called “blasphemous, criminal, nasty woman.” 

Both of the candidates’ characters were slandered by these labels, thus attacking the moral values of their supporters as well. This is a sad America, where individuals are judged solely by the party they represent.

The Pew Research Center revealed in 2016 that “among those highly engaged in politics – those who say they vote regularly and either volunteer for or donate to campaigns – fully 70 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans say they are afraid of the other party.” The study outlines the fact that Democrats and Republicans believe each other’s policies threaten America’s future; the real threat is the parties’ inability to work together.

In an age where relations across party lines are the furthest thing from friendly, it’s important to remember that terror affects us all. It has been roughly nine months since the Parkland shooting. The week that followed that massacre was full of student-led walkouts and support posts across all social media platforms.

Graphic Illustration: Mary Childs Hall

But since then, the rest of America has forgotten the names of the victims and the sadness of that day, even though the lives of the parents whose children died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will never be the same. We have become numb to terror, for shootings seem to occur daily and hatred seems never-ending. Party lines use these statistics as rhetoric to gain dominance over the other group and forget the tragic loss of life they represent.  

People are dying – real people with families and hobbies and passions. Life is too short for politicians on both sides to refuse change on the basis of wanting complete control. Life is too short for people’s political egos to eclipse the human need to negotiate. Life is too short for your friends to become your enemies as a result of divergent political views.

I hope that my generation will defy the “massacre” title it has been given, and finally be the one to change the song. And, if my rabbi is reading this: I belong to a united generation, where despite our differences, we are one.