A history of political division

The presidential race that finally ended on Tuesday descended into a repetitive mess of insults and false accusations on both sides. How did our two major political parties become so divided? It all began with the Buckley vs. Vidal debates in 1968.

As a Creative Audience event, Tuesday, Oct. 25, the Buckley vs. Vidal debates were shown in the documentary “Best of Enemies.” The film was shown as part of a trans-media experience, which means that before the film began some background information was provided about the topic. Following the film was a question and answer discussion about how the film mirrors modern political debates and why the Buckley vs. Vidal debates are still relevant to modern society.

“Best of Enemies” follows the story of two intellectuals with a burning hatred toward each other commentating on the presidential nominations of 1968. These men had a completely opposite mindset regarding politics and social conduct. On the conservative side was William F. Buckley Jr., contrasted by Gore Vidal on the liberal side.

In the film, Richard Wald, former president of NBC, said, “ABC was the third of the three networks. It would’ve been fourth, but there were only three.” Due to the low ratings, ABC News hired Buckley and Vidal to discuss both the Democratic and Republican conventions for presidential nominations. Bringing the two opposing views into one room to debate was unprecedented at the time of these debates and drew many viewers. It was history in the making.

Following the film, JSC political science teacher Dr. David Plazek was accompanied by Vermont Senator Susan Bartlett and JSC teacher James Moran in a discussion that connected “Best of Enemies” to the modern presidential debates and political culture.

Listening to political commentators today can be entertaining, but will never rival the extraordinary experience of watching Buckley and Vidal quarrel. Today, it is hard to find anyone as intense as these two were about politics, which is why they made such a large ripple in today’s political culture. Moran describes the Buckley vs. Vidal debates as “the catalyst” which ignited the great divide between our presidential parties.

The public’s appetite for the debates pressured news sources to provide not just information, but entertainment as well. In 1987, Ronald Reagan removed the fairness doctrine that made news show both sides of a topic. Due to the removal of this doctrine, the entertainment news that was becoming so popular formed biased, one-sided news stories which widened the gap that Buckley and Vidal created between the Democratic and Republican parties.

During our current political debates everyone is forming in and out groups with no in-between. This ideology removes the grey zone between way left and way right. JSC student Connor Rose said that the “polarization of politics was inevitable” because of the way our political culture is shaped by biased news sources and political icons that rally votes by throwing negative accusations at the other candidates.

With society so divided, Moran said, “the great danger is when we stop talking to one another, stop listening to one another and project our demons upon the other guy.” This can be seen in our current elections at almost every rally and debate. Candidates ignore one another, talk over each other and even incite violence toward supporters of the other candidate.

The divide that has been forming across our once great nation is amplified in a way never seen before by social media. These platforms have allowed people to only receive the news they want to hear, and it allows people to ignore news sources they don’t agree with. This has created a political culture of ignorant, extremely biased citizens who won’t go out of their way to listen to opposing views.

To close this divide and fix the damage started from our current political culture, we have to seek out both sides of the story and be informed. Plazek suggested that “comedy can be an avenue for learning things you wouldn’t otherwise.” Sometimes satirical articles are the only way for someone to learn the opposing side of a certain issue when they refuse to read articles from the contrasting standpoint. In Bartlett’s words, “Go find the story that is different.” To get informed on a topic, you must look for the news story that shows the side of the story you haven’t heard before.

With the nation divided and the presidential election occurring, citizens need to be informed, unbiased and active in searching for both sides of the story.  The political divide can only be mended by people as passionately determined to close it as Buckley and Vidal were to open it.