President Barack Obama delivered his final speech as President of the United States Jan. 10. Comprised of optimism, warnings, and tributes to his family, Obama’s final address was heartfelt and nostalgic while bringing up a topic that’s becoming increasingly evident in U.S. society—political polarization.
This divide could be seen in real-time as the speech was broadcast on social media. The comments on The New York Times live stream were very different compared to those found on Fox News’coverage of the speech. With few exceptions, NYT’s posts were filled with positive comments, supporting Obama’s legacy and expressing fear of a President Trump. Fox News displayed optimism for President Trump and regret for the last decade.
This metaphorical gap is not new; there have been varying opinions on politics and policies since the founding of this country. However, within the last few decades the stratification of ideas and beliefs is increasingly prominent.
“It really started back in the 1980s. We no longer had the Soviet Union to worry about and we turned on each other,” political science professor Dr. Jonathan C. Benjamin-Alvarado said. “We’ve always had to have some boogeyman out there to keep things in order. At the end of the cold war there was no ‘big bad thing,’ so we looked inside.”
There is a way to mend this divide: communication and open discussion. Unfortunately, not many people are participating in thoughtful, tolerant discussions.
“I think the thinking adults in the room have left and it’s turned into a squabble among the siblings,” Benjamin-Alvarado said. “At the end of the day they’ve made this decision not to even engage with one another, and I think that’s really unfortunate. Nobody has the ability to make other people come to the table and truly engage.”
Benjamin-Alvarado said that he has placed his hope in the young people he teaches, and encourages them to actively observe what is going on in the country.
There are ways for students to reach across the divide and see how the world looks from the other side. Jacob Wilson, a senior and president of UNO’s Turning Point USA welcomes students to attend the organization’s meetings. Turning Point USA “educates students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government,” according to the organization’s website.
“We are open to everyone to have a discussion with us,” Wilson said. “We will be respectful. Also, that if you love America, enjoy liberty and capitalism, then our club is perfect for you.”
The College Democrats of the University of Nebraska at Omaha also welcome those interested in attending a meeting. They meet Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in the Milo Bail Student Center.
The fastest way to understanding is communication, and college is the perfect time to explore outside of comfort zones and meet people of different beliefs. The present is riddled with hate, fear and uncertainty, but the future doesn’t have to be.