Americans on both the Right and the Left are more alike than you might suspect.

I don’t mean we are alike in the clichéd, superficial way that politicians describe as “nonpartisan” and “crossing the aisle.” In today’s political climate, despite what these politicians want you to think, coming together in unity is a nonexistent practice. At best, it’s a relic of what we’d like to think America once was. More than likely, it’s just wishful thinking.

The Right and Left are deeply polarized, and they always have been. Today, our bitter dissimilarity highlights our sad similarities.

Both sides, for example, are convinced that we must take immediate action to save our country, but the Right says we must save it from communism (which it blames on the Left), and the Left hopes to save it from facism (which it blames on the Right). Both sides utterly abhor sloppy journalism. One side calls it “fake news;” the other labels it as “misinformation.” And while the Left has relentlessly accused Trump of authoritarianism, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro recently penned an entire book inculpating the Left of the exact same sin.

So, when I say that the Right and the Left are more alike than you might suspect, I mean they are alike in that they both recognize many of the same problems and both attribute those problems to the other side. And ever increasingly, as a result, Republicans hate Democrats and Democrats hate Republicans.

A 2019 poll from the Pew Research Center reported that “55% of Republicans say Democrats are “more immoral” when compared with other Americans,” and “47% of Democrats say the same about Republicans.” A similar Axios poll from a few months earlier indicated that more than 20% of both Democrats and Republicans would describe the other side as evil.

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More specific details from Axios revealed that 61% of Democrats considered the GOP to be “racist/bigoted/sexist,” while the Pew poll found a similar number of Republicans thought Democrats were disproportionately closed-minded and upatriotic.

Not surprisingly, this increase in partisan eminety in America has closely accompanied an increase in political violence. Recent data from the Survey Center on American Life announced that 29% of Americans admit that “taking violent actions” may be justified under certain political circumstances.

The data attributed the uptick in political violence – which both sides see as a problem – to the January 6 Capitol riots, radical Trump supporters and QAnon conspiracy theories, but conservatives counter that the 2020 BLM riots and Antifa are actually at fault. 

This divide can be seen in a Monmouth University poll revealing that “47% of Republicans… would call [the January 6 incident] a “legitimate protest,” while “only 13% of Democrats accept that characterization.” On the other hand, Pew Research affirmed that Republicans, by a wide margin of approximately 69 percentage points, were less favorable to the often violent George Floyd protests than Democrats were.

I’m not implying that there should be some moral equivalency between the Right and the Left, nor am I saying that their ideas are comparably valid. There is an absolute standard of right and wrong when it comes to politics, and I, as an open partisan, happen to believe my side is right more often than the opposing side is.

But, if I’m honest, I miss the old America. The real America.

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I miss the country in which we could each believe that our opposing sides were respectively right, and not hate each other for it. The country in which Republicans and Democrats could have civil conversations with one another without retrograding into baseless accusations and needless insults.

I miss the country where friendship wasn’t threatened by a person’s preferred politician. The country whose citizens lived out their belief in the famous words, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

That’s the America I miss.

I don’t have many years under my belt, but I’m old enough to remember an America like this. We’ve become so divided in the last decade, and the speed with which our country is dividing should worry even the staunchest partisans.

We didn’t go wrong when we began to disagree – our diverse opinions and beliefs never have meshed well (thank God our founders gave us federalism for that very reason). We went wrong when politics became so important to us that we could no longer see past our disagreements.

When we, as fellow Americans, stopped helping each other just because we disagreed.

I don’t want or need a uniform country, for America never was such a country. I want a united country. A country in which we can finally agree to disagree with basic decency, grace and respect.

A country in which the Right and Left can be absolutely unalike, and yet still, as Abraham Lincoln said, strive to the lofty ideal that “[w]e are not enemies, but friends.” 

“We must not be enemies.”

Jakob Fay is a former intern and current SIA Coordinator for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.