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8 Mar, 2020 02:57

2 in 5 US college students believe their political opponents are EVIL – so why settle for the lesser one?

2 in 5 US college students believe their political opponents are EVIL – so why settle for the lesser one?

US college students aren’t just suspicious of those with different politics – both liberals and conservatives think the other side is “evil.” It’s time to stop fighting and ask ourselves who benefits from political holy war.

While previous generations’ political activists might have resembled cultists in their single-minded devotion to the Cause (and some still do), today’s college students have consigned their ideological opponents to a quasi-religious dark side, according to a survey published earlier this week by the College Fix. More than a third Democrats and Republicans alike told the outlet their political adversaries were “not just worse for politics – they are basically evil.” 

Both “sides” are apparently guilty of seeing their adversaries in these stark Manichean terms, a reality which might surprise card-carrying members of either party who see themselves as the noble ones in the ideological fray. Some 37 percent of Democrats agreed Republicans were “basically evil,” the results showed, while 39 percent of Republicans felt the same about their Democratic counterparts.

It’s not exactly surprising that years of partisan sniping, kicked into overdrive by ratings-hungry mainstream media, have both honed Americans’ tribal instincts to a sharp point and directed that rancor at their neighbors instead of the billionaires pulling the strings of the political puppet shows unfolding on the news. But these were not grizzled ideologues being queried by CollegePulse about whether their political opponents were truly evil – these were students, theoretically at the age where they’re most open to new ideas. If they’re already consumed by quasi-religious fervor against their “enemies,” what does that say about older generations? Worse, what does it mean for the future of open dialogue or civilized debate, two nearly-extinct phenomena already?

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College has seldom been a less friendly place for free inquiry. Campus speech police loom large over every classroom (and, increasingly, social) interaction, ready to pounce on any utterance that could perceivably be deemed offensive to one of a growing number of victim classes. A different survey, conducted in November, showed that political orientation has become the last remaining axis along which it is socially permissible to discriminate. That study also showed that people were so eager to discriminate in a socially-acceptable fashion that they’d throw logic and reason to the side in their rush to embrace inane stereotypes and sweeping generalizations without being excoriated as bigots.

In this charged atmosphere, calling one’s political opponent a “Nazi” or a demon for merely holding the ‘wrong’ political beliefs has become depressingly common. Epithets like “racist,”“sexist,” and “antisemite” have become a dime a dozen, regardless of how inapplicable they may be to their target. The more these words are misused, the more they lose their meaning, coagulating into a vague slur meaning “bad person” even as they continue to inspire a visceral horror. As society has become more tolerant, however, the average college student is dramatically less likely to encounter many real bigots – truly intolerant individuals whose execrable prejudices genuinely make them a “them” to the enlightened student’s “us.” Yet that tribal itch wants scratching. Demonizing Republicans (if you’re a Democrat) or Democrats (if you’re a Republican) ensures an endless supply of enemies to wage holy war against.

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Divide and conquer is a tried and true technique for defeating a more numerous enemy, and it has survived since at least the days of ancient Greece because it works so marvelously well for oligarchic rulers. One might think the masses had caught on by now, but well-crafted appeals to our base tribal instincts work best when they circumvent the reasoning faculties of our brains and go straight for the amygdala the fear center. Hence: “the liberals are coming for your guns!” “one in three women is raped on campus!” “The terrorists hate us for our freedoms!”

A judicious ruler will temper his appeals to fear (the stick) with rewards for good behavior (the carrot), ensuring the people’s minds have time to relax and rebuild their stores of adrenaline and cortisol. It’s impossible to maintain constant levels of fear without building up a powerful tolerance, requiring increasing (and increasingly ridiculous, to outside viewers) levels of stimuli. But an unwise ruler or a ruler who simply has nothing to offer his people will keep hammering away at his subjects’ amygdalas, hoping to distract them from their declining standard of living every time a politician waltzes across the TV screen telling them they have it better than everyone else.

The American ruling class knows they can’t keep turning up the volume on the same partisan narratives forever. Already, trust in mainstream media is at rock-bottomlevels, the president openly mocks “fake news” reporters to their faces, and even extreme censorship algorithms can’t keep Americans’ eyes away from alternative media.

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CollegeFix’s poll does offer a ray of hope for those leery of a seeming rise in politically-motivated violence. Even in the hyper-partisan ideological climate in which nearly two in five students believes they are (politically) fighting literal evil, just 7 percent of respondents agreed that Democrats were justified in using violence to advance their political goals, and only 6 percent agreed Republicans were. This is a far cry from the dangerous world depicted in conservative and liberal MSM alike, where masked Antifa thugs and gun-toting Nazis are waiting behind every corner enjoying the full backing of their relative ideological contingents.

Certainly, violent factions exist on the left and right, and the media stands behind them puffing them up to distract from the real people holding the beliefs the narrative-managers seek to demonize. But this generation of college students hasn’t been hoodwinked into swapping rhetorical bludgeons for real ones. Indeed, the fakest news of all may be the insistence that Americans are truly at each other’s throats 48 percent of respondents to CollegeFix’s survey identified as Independent, leaning toward (but not part of) one party or the other, a pattern that reflects the electorate at large. Fewer Americans with every generation are falling into the divide and conquer trap and perhaps they can help their peers learn to separate church and state. Evil and politics don’t mix, even (especially) settling for the “lesser evil.”

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.