When Donald Trump entered the spotlight of presidential politics back in June 2015, many thought his campaign would never succeed in the primaries. One might think that Trump’s extreme brand of right-wing politics resonated with a significant portion of the population simply because it corresponded with a majority of Republican beliefs, but the truth is much more complicated than that. According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, the two major parties have drastically polarized in the past twenty years. A major contributor to this trend is a basic but often overlooked trait of human social habits: we see those who disagree as the enemy and therefore refuse to associate with them.
An echo chamber is defined as any social environment in which opposing views are disallowed, condemned, or suppressed by some other means. Every person has some sort of echo chamber in his or her life, and to a certain extent, it is not necessarily detrimental to associate with people who agree with you as it allows for mutual support. The problem arises when people live a majority of their social lives in environments saturated solely with views they already hold. In this case, those comfortable ideologies are repeated and praised constantly, and extremist views slowly begin to enter the sphere. These radical beliefs are not condemned as much inside the echo chamber as they would be in the outside world because they are less ideologically distant from the one-sided beliefs of the echo chamber.
A modern example of this phenomenon can be seen in portions of the social media website Tumblr. Originally benevolent mutual support groups for feminism and tolerance began to become echo chambers, allowing extreme misandrists and hateful rhetoric to eventually hijack the original narrative and defile the original intent. Such problematic results occur when those who were not originally involved in political discourse are introduced to it inside of one of these echo chambers. Instead of looking at all perspectives before forming their own opinion, these people become mouthpieces for those who speak the loudest within a particular circle—the extremists. Additionally, most echo chambers have a tendency to make people dependent on being surrounded only by opinions they agree with, leading eventually to the highly controversial and polarizing phenomenon of “safe spaces.”
So let’s take a look again at this year’s election—what exactly has caused the Trump candidacy to gain so much ground with such a significant portion of the population? The answer is radicalization of conservatism due, in no small part, to the formation of echo chambers. People, no matter their political orientation, tend to only befriend and listen to people with whom they agree. Websites like Facebook make this process easy: “like” or “friend” the people you agree with and ignore the rest. When people start viewing political discourse from the sole perspective of influential, highly commercialized people like Michael Moore, Tomi Lahren, or Ann Coulter, it is not surprising that their views radicalize, leading to our current atrocity of a political system in which people like Donald Trump can gain the spotlight. In order for democracy to work, people need to be impartially informed of all perspectives while they form their own opinions. So evaluate how you treat those who differ from you, and when you meet someone with a different opinion, keep an open mind. Civil and open discourse is the key to repairing the damage done by polarization and mutual antipathy.
This article was written by Alec Mason. Click here to see more of Alec’s work.