MSU College Republicans, Dems talk unity after divisive 2016
In a year marred by creepy clowns and celebrity death, it was the presidential election that arguably became the nation's most enrapturing story, mainly for its divisive undertones and jarring of the political establishment.
“I would say this is the most divisive election, at least in my lifetime, and perhaps one of the most divisive elections we’ve ever had,” MSU associate professor of constitutional democracy Benjamin Kleinerman said.
The 2016 presidential election, in which Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton, inspired several contentious months of debate and bitterness between parties that does not seem to have calmed.
“More extreme partisanship has become characteristic of both political parties to an increasing extent,” Kleinerman said. “Certain segments of both the Democratic and the Republican electorate are more aggressively sure that they’re right, and that the other side is not only wrong, but sort of evil.”
While bitterness of the at-times scathing election continues to smolder in the nation's Capitol, the members of both the MSU College Democrats and MSU College Republicans emphasized the need for unity between parties in coming months.
“Right now we really do see that it is still divisive,” MSU Republicans Chair Jeff Litten said. “I think it’s going to start to rally around and everything, and when we see all the progress America makes people are going to start being less divisive, people are going to reach out.”
While Litten felt 2016 was a decent year, in part due to Republicans now controlling Michigan, the federal legislature and the presidency, he said an issue he sees on both sides of the aisle is people not reaching out to each other or trying to understand the other side.
“Both sides are so inherent in their beliefs that they don’t want to talk to each other, and if you talk to each other you’ll understand what the other side believes, what your fellow counterparts believe, and then maybe that will strengthen your argument but also make your argument more rounded,” Litten said.
Despite this, Litten said he is confident that going forward the nation’s political divides can be healed in 2017.
“I see more people reaching out right now because of the divisiveness that’s going on in the country right now,” Litten said. “As long as we all move forward and we work together and we talk to each other, we’re going to see the divisiveness start to disappear.”
MSU College Democrats Communications Director Hannah Smith said there are not only partisan divides waiting to be healed, but schisms in her own party as well.
“From both sides of the spectrum, there were 19 presidential candidates on the Republican side to begin with … and there was the Hillary and Bernie divide, so it was really interesting to see how the nation polarized,” Smith said. “I think it is going to be difficult, especially on the Democratic side because of the whole Bernie-Hillary thing that happened. I think some people are having a hard time overcoming, ‘oh, well Hillary’s crooked, and Bernie’s crazy.’”
Smith said despite Democrat losses, many positives came out of 2016 as well, such as successful registration drives on campus and an uptick in youth participation.
“Above all, we need to keep the people that we elected held responsible for their actions,” Smith said. “Just because the election is over doesn’t mean we can slack on (it), pay attention to news and national events.”
Though the election has ended, both organizations are looking to get back to work in 2017. Litten said MSU College Republicans will continue to promote Republican ideals on campus, while Smith said the Dems will focus on planning for local elections. Both said they intend to bring speakers to campus in the near future.
Kleinerman said whether or not political tensions continue or heal in 2017 and beyond depends on several factors, including President-elect Trump’s attitude behavior upon taking office, if the parties learn to listen and to the other side more and if Americans vote in the interest of dramatic change once again next election.
“In the context of a ‘change election,' I think there’s a lot more divisiveness,” Kleinerman said. “If we have a more normal election in 2020, probably not so much divisiveness.”