"Polarize" is a funny word. I hear it all the time, including from my own mouth. The country is polarized. The parties are polarized. President Trump is polarizing. I think that's true, but I don't think the word means what people think it means.
First, let's go to the dictionary.
That looks right to me. But when people hear the word "polarized," they think it means something like "the maximum distance" apart from each other -- like when we think about how the North and South poles are on opposite ends of the planet.
In other words, the metaphor implicit in the word suggests that
The other day,
It is undoubtedly true that on some issues,
The more important point is that in many respects, this just isn't true. Consider Trump. His position on trade, his signature issue, represents not a sharp break from the left, but a closing of the gap with it. Protectionism and "fair trade" have been staples of the
Likewise on infrastructure spending and entitlement reform, Trump hasn't staked out some extreme libertarian stance, he has stolen the issues from
And this points to the source of the confusion. There is a natural human tendency to believe that those we hate must believe the opposite of what we believe. This is part of what psychologists call "the narcissism of minor differences."
And for these sins,
Even on social issues, where there are certainly significant ideological differences, the two sides are rarely on opposite sides of the issue. They are merely on opposing sides of some narrow questions.
Conservatives don't seek to outlaw homosexuality or transgenderism. They don't seek to ban women from the workforce. To the very limited extent there are
In "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell wrote about how metaphors can do our thinking for us and bad metaphors can lead us to faulty conclusions. If "thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better."
"Polarized" is precisely the kind of "dying metaphor" Orwell had in mind. The country is indeed polarized. But it is more socially and politically divided than it is ideologically. The root of the disagreement has more to do with making sure "our" team has power. What it does with that power is, at best, a secondary consideration.