Do you like chocolate or vanilla? Are you a dog or cat person? In life, we are often faced with questions and situations in which only two choices are seemingly available. However, our questions in life aren’t usually as simple as being a dog or cat person or liking chocolate or vanilla. Often choices that seem binary are multilayered and incredibly complex. A clear example of this, and one that has certainly taken the main stage during this current election cycle, is whether one identifies as “Republican” or “Democrat.” But, even a question like that is much more complicated than it seems.
Over the course of this election cycle, the nation has never been more divided. These polarizing candidates have the nation on two extremes. Two candidates have never been more disliked heading into the final months of an election. Yet, what we as a nation often forget or choose to ignore is that giving support is not a binary decision. From purely a policy standpoint, it will always be challenging to find a candidate who aligns perfectly with our own individual values. Every person knows that supporting a candidate does not necessarily mean one supports absolutely every position said candidate takes. Yet when it comes to that candidate’s actions, it is as if supporters immediately go on the defensive, needing to defend their candidate in absolute.
The reality is that both major-party candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are highly flawed; that does not mean that neither of them will make for a good president. One can support Clinton from a policy standpoint, while also acknowledging that her handling of the e-mail situation was pathetic at best. Yes, that’s a major flaw in her as a candidate, but she, like her supporters, is human. The same goes for a Trump supporter. One does not need to support every single word that he says (many of which being simple indefensible), but can agree with Trump on many other stances of his.
A large part of the increase in polarization and false ideal of a flawless candidate has to do with bias. Though it’s nearly impossible to identify one’s own biases, it’s important to understand what role bias can play in one’s own life. One of the most apparent biases, especially when examining politics, is attitude polarization, which can be viewed as a subset of confirmation bias. This subset of confirmation bias causes people who disagree on a matter to become more extreme in their differences after viewing the same exact evidence on the issue. This might seem counterintuitive—one might think that viewing the same pieces of evidence could actually bring two sides together, allowing them to better understand the opposing position. However, as flawed people, we tend to pick and choose the evidence that best fits our current beliefs, further alienating ourselves from the opposing side.
Looking at the highly-debated Affordable Care Act, if one is given all the statistics about how the Affordable Care Act has affected our nation, one might pick out the fact that hospitals have saved $7.4 billion in uncompensated care costs in 2014. Yet, another person might bring up the fact that medical costs, on average, rose 19 percent in 2014 and 22 percent in 2015 for new individual market enrollees. Handpicking certain bits of information can certainly strengthen one’s argument, but it’ll never paint the entire picture. The issues aren’t so straightforward; very few things are absolutely good or absolutely bad. Clearly the Affordable Care Act has done some good and some bad. It is how one weighs the positive and negatives that allows for a fair interpretation, not how one chooses to present the information, leaving out key bits.
Often, we handpick the statistics, quotes, triumphs, scandals or characteristics that best suit their argument, while completely ignoring the entire picture. However, it’s not entirely our own fault, as many conditions outside of our control effect what picture is painted. Depending on one’s news channel of choice, we might feel inclined to not trust the “heavily conservative” Fox News or “leftist liberal media” of CNN and MSNBC. And, sadly, it is true that news sources often have some inherent bias embedded in their core. (Whether news should be reported with that bias is for another discussion, as many people see news as part of the consumer market, so perhaps it shouldn’t be presented to gain the most viewers.) The important thing is to acknowledge our own implicit bias and the bias found all around us, and although we cannot truly escape it, we can do our best to view all information from many different sources in its entirety. Weigh how important certain things are to us and present an argument from that standpoint, not one that simply helps our side.
Noah Davis is a Trinity sophomore. His column, “pretty average,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.