I'm just going to come out and say it. Contemporary politics is unbearable, petty and divisive. So how did things get this way? Why has the political sphere become so divsive in recent years? I'll take a stab answering that question here.
I am optimistic that there will be a return to a more Socratic way of doing things; a return to some sembalance of civility and reason. Perhaps if we are willing to look critically at why things have gotten so divisive, we may find some solutions to bring the sanity back to politics.
1. The Ends Justify The Means
This translates to winning at any cost for the politicians themselves, and it is probably why we see more willingness to engage in election fraud, candidate disenfranchisement, debate rigging, incivility, smear campaigns and so forth that the so-called left and the so-called right are seemingly guilty of.
Both the left and the right get so much wrong in terms in trying to force their beliefs onto others. Some of this has to do with bad manners and with a blatantly obvious lack of ethics, which I'll get to later in the post. However part of the problem is the fact that political parties even exist to begin with, which segues into my next point.
"We often know precisely what a political partisan will say about some controversial factual matter before they open their mouths and before the evidence comes in. It is a mistake to regard someone like that as a credible source of information," he states.
The fact that political parties must exist in the first place is problematic. They are essentially utilitarian, consensus forming apparatuses. Jaques Ellul argues that political parties routinely undermine the democratic process itself:
Parties channel free-floating opinion into existing formulas, polarizing it on opposites that do not necessarily correspond to the original tenets of such opinion. Because parties are so rigid, because they deal with only a part of any question, and because they are purely politically motivated, they distort public opinion and prevent it from forming naturally. 
3. Ignorance of Nuance and Lack of Critical Thinking
To combat all of this, perhaps we should try for a more Socratic outlook, whereby our reasoning proceeds from an assumption of our own ignorance rather than from partisan snap judgments. This has to do with being slow to form options, and being somewhat reasonable and humble rather rather than being a pompous know-it-all.
We must also learn to separate our reasoning from our identity. Even someone without training in logic can learn to take a deep breath and think with some degree of distance and detachment when confronted with something that challenges their beliefs. I know because I have learned to do this myself! One strategy for being more reasonable is to consider the opposite point of view. It forces you to look at the other side's reasoning and consider that it may be sound.
4. Agitation Propaganda
Jaques Ellul identifies agitation propaganda, or agitprop, as strategic type of demagoguery meant to inspire the propagandee from resentment to action. Agitprop is used to shake up societal order in some way - towards war, division, a certain political party, group, or preferred outcome. It is designed to fire people up by appealing to their most basic anti-social instincts. Agitprop is subversive because once it begins to direct a person's prejudices, it is harder for them to retreat or to reconcile with their perceived opponents. Propaganda in general does not allow for civil debate and reconciliation. Hate, anger and momentum are agitation propaganda's most effective resources. Ellul states:
"It is extremely easy to launch a revolutionary movement based on hatred of a particular enemy...Whether the object of hatred is the bourgeois, the Communist, the Jew, the colonialist, it makes no difference...Propaganda of agitation succeeds each time it designates someone as the source of all misery, provided that he is not too powerful. However, hatred once provoked continues to reproduce itself." 
Identity politics can be problematic because if we aren't careful, it can be a slippery slope from affirming one group to denouncing another. I'll get to that next.
5. Belligerent Identity Politics
There is more to people than their group identity. Even if we happen to find value in this approach to politics, we must realize that it is inherently divisive. If we want to foster a sense of fellowship and shared community among people who must continue live together in the same country, then we need to focus primarily on a common humanity shared by everyone, rather than the narrow interests of groups divided up by gender, race, sexuality and so on.
6. Bad Manners
Radicals on the so-called left and so-called right clearly believe that the ends justify the means, since they are increasingly resorting to incivility and even violence directed at their political opponents. As I said before, when politics is perceived as a zero sum game, then there is no incentive for civility. In the absence of civility, everybody looses. We are reduced to acting like snarling beasts of the field. This threatens everyone's safety and stability.
The other problem is that you will never convince anybody of anything by being belligerent! The old adage that you get more flies with honey than with vinegar is basically correct. Remember what I said about having a Socratic outlook? Stop using anti-Socratic language if you want to convince someone. Here is a handy cheat-sheet of Socratic phrases to use in dialog. Socratic language is great. It fosters both critical thinking and basic respect for the other person's humanity. We should set higher standards for ourselves and refuse to have bad manners.
7. Politicization of Everything
"When activism is motivated by any felt moral absolute; any idea of perfection, it leads to an increase in political instability...Whether from the left or right, neither force nor freedom will make up for the absence of a philosophically robust notion of virtue in society," Hoyt states.
Hoyt expands on this, defining a disordered philosophy as essentially egoistic, advancing a kind of extremism motivated by a morally pure vision of society at any cost to stability (as opposed to maximizing the probability that most citizens are able to get their basic needs met in peace). Hoyt also argues that disordered philosophies conflate the economic and/or political with the strictly moral (the pursuit of virtue).
Politics increasingly seems to be a vessel for some people to channel their neurosis and anger, rather than engaging in the difficult work of genuine introspection and personal growth. We should really take an honest look at ourselves to see if we aren't part of the problem before lashing out at our political opponents. French philosopher Pierre Hadot suggests that we do our best to remain composed:
The trick is to maintain oneself on the level of reason, not to allow oneself to be blinded by passions, anger, resentment or prejudices. To be sure, there is an equilibrium - almost impossible to achieve - between the inner peace brought about by wisdom, and the passions to which the sight of injustices, sufferings, and misery of mankind cannot help but give rise. Wisdom, however, consists in precisely such an equilibrium, and inner peace is indispensable for efficacious action. 
Do we have good manners? Are we slow to anger? Do we treat others that we disagree with civilly? Are we careful forming our opinions? Are we somewhat humble? Do we respect the humanity of others? These are all things that we can control. Politics may be divisive, but we don't have to be part of the problem.
1. Ellul, J. 1973. Propaganda. The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. New York: Vintage Books.
3. Hadot, P. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Malden, MA: Blackwell. 274.
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