Christmas is approaching, and for many it is marked by sitting by the fireplace, friends and family nearby, unwrapping presents that were carefully chosen by those closest to you, cups of hot chocolate, and heated political arguments. I’ve always assumed that family had quite an open-minded political outlook. However, as I sat down on Christmas Eve, I realized the opposite. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. My grandmother watched The Simpsons annual Christmas special with me. This was a rather normal evening, as my family has always been huge fans of the show. The characters poked fun of the rigid traditions that are associated with Christmas. This was also quite normal, as The Simpsons is a television show that is notorious for having an extremely cynical tone and making fun of every group of people. Despite knowing this, my Grandmother scorned me for watching a show that made fun of Christmas, saying that there was no respect for the holiday anymore before she left the room filled with anger. Witnessing her outrage, I grew angry myself. I found her behavior irrational, how she fumed at her own family for something as trivial as a cartoon. I reflected on how she left the room and shut herself out from the show completely. I felt that she had just told me that what I liked was wrong, and she wasn’t going to try to understand my opinion.
Having traditional or conservative viewpoints is in no way wrong – likewise with a liberal viewpoint. However, having an isolated and uninformed viewpoint is. Many far-left or far-right Americans would be baffled by the idea of leaning in a different direction, even minutely. They continue along with the dogma they have blindly followed for as long as they have been alive. This partially stems from the polarized political system that America is based upon. Liberals, by definition, are open-minded to new ideas, while conservatives act based on traditional values. But these definitions don’t indicate much about the traits of those who identify as said political ideals. Liberals closely identify with the political beliefs of the Democrats, and typically advocate for personal liberties and equality, such as LGBT rights, and equality between genders. On the contrary, conservatives are known to believe in smaller government and free trade, as well as protection of individuals, such as the ability to practice their religion and possess firearms. While these are only general beliefs that are not held by every person who identifies as a liberal or conservative, they still show the stark difference between these groups’ beliefs. One of the main institutions that reflect this difference is the press. Many news outlets take very strong point of views when presenting current events. This bias pushes many to become trapped in a political echo chamber.
In November of 2018, Huffington Post writer Ed Mazza published his article, “Viewers Noticed Some Very Disturbing Details In ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’”, in which he criticizes the holiday classic for displaying harmful ideas such as bullying, racism, and homophobia. Many readers, liberal and conservative alike, were quick to comment on how Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer has nothing to do with racism or homophobia. This movie is about the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who is made fun of for having a red nose. In the end, he is asked by Santa to lead the reindeers pulling his sleigh through the sky, because his nose would help guide those behind him. It is a tale of self-acceptance and rising above others who make fun of you. The reaction to this article, however, was far more toxic and harmful than the article itself. Mazza wrote this article in an extremely casual format, mostly citing tweets written by people who were upset upon rewatching the former beloved movie. Unfortunately, because the Huffington Post is characterized as a liberal news outlet, many were quick to attack liberalism as a whole for “waging war on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Once again, this was a very short, informal article, and it spurred Donald Trump Jr. to tweet in reply, “Liberalism is a disease”. Despite the significant amount of liberals rejecting this article and its ideas, he pinned a singular person’s opinion on roughly half of the nation. This tweet reached a massive audience, and further spread the false message that every Liberal is outraged by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
In terms of overreacting and generalizing when it comes to political beliefs, liberals are by no means innocent. Starbucks, the well-known coffee franchise, has had a long-held tradition of unveiling limited edition holiday cups. Through the winter months, customers would drink their coffee or tea from an ornate, Christmas inspired cup. That was, at least, until 2015. In 2015, the Starbucks cup took an embodied an entirely different aesthetic. Rather than being dotted by presents and trees and other Christmas traditions, it was plain red. Starbucks made this decision in order to be more inclusive of those who did not celebrate Christmas. This is an extremely sensible decision, as the American based franchise recognized one of the most integral facets of our nation: diversity. The birth of America resulted from immigration, it grew from the thousands of immigrants seeking asylum from a multitude of countries through Ellis Island, and even now, many continue to move to America for increased opportunity. With this migration from different countries come different cultures and religions becoming apart of society. As the old saying goes, “America is a melting pot”. According to Pew Research, 70.6% of Americans identify as Christian. While this may seem like a large number, it is important to consider the immense population of America. This means that roughly 96 million Americans do not identify as a Christian. Starbucks changed their design not to say that Christians were no longer accepted, rather, that everyone was accepted. A very small group of conservatives, instead of perceiving it in its intended light of unity and peace for the holiday season, took it as a blatant attack on Christmas and Christianity as a whole. While this opinion was held by very few people, the voices of those with this opinion were heard the loudest. Many conservatives expressed their opinion that such a response to such a small issue was absurd, and that they appreciated Starbucks sentiment. However, the dangerous habit of generalizing political groups, similarly to the case of the Rudolph outrage, has led to the stark divide in our country.
America is based on questioning one’s own beliefs. Thomas Paine was a writer in the early years of the American revolution. In his popular pamphlet entitled “Common Sense”, he outlines the reasons for rebellion: “The English government that you worship? This is a sham. … The monarchy you revere? It’s not our protector; it’s our enemy. … Our crisis today? It’s folly to think we should maintain loyalty to a distant tyrant”. This pamphlet, written entirely about questioning the beliefs that the Colonies held, sold to thousands and convinced many to join the patriot cause. If it wasn’t for this questioning, America may have not become the independent state it is now. Skepticism is required for a strong society that evolves as time progresses. And to achieve this, communication is the most important tool. Stereotyping the opposite side of one’s political views is easy. Viewing the other side as a nameless, faceless mass of idiots who are simply uninformed and do not know what they are talking about is the direction many unfortunately take. However, if as a society we begin to break down the barrier that we have built between ourselves, we will begin to realize that we are not that different after all. Humanizing the other side, empathizing with them, and understanding their point of view rather than shrugging it off as incorrect is the only way that the societal divide can be quelled. Question why you believe what you believe. I am not urging you to change your opinion, only to analyze your reasons for your values. Did you decide your political beliefs? Or did the people around you shape them? Do you believe the other side to be stupid and incorrect? Have you considered their point of view? Question yourself day and night. America is becoming more divided than ever, and this divide has not appeared from thin air. Americans have been neglecting to talk to the other side and considering their point of views, stepping out of their echo chambers, and putting a halt to their subconscious stereotyping. Truly, if we do not put an end to this divide, America may as well still be controlled by a monarchy.