Is Society More Polarized Than Ever? Some Thoughts…


Over spring break, my family drove to Asheville, North Carolina for an extended weekend trip. Despite having visited the town several times, it always seems like a new place to me. Asheville has experienced a population growth of nearly 30% since 2000, but it’s not just that growth that has changed the town. It has also managed to keep its downtown alive and thriving with its high-quality restaurants, stores, museums and arts venues. Additionally, as my 7-year-old daughter noticed, it has an abundance of ice cream shops!

Asheville has really turned into a jewel that many Appalachian communities could use as a case study and emulate. After all, North Carolina’s mountains are no prettier than the ones in Kentucky!

While waiting as my wife shopped, my son and I visited several local bookstores, of which Malaprop’s Bookstore stood out to me. It was larger than average and offered a wide range of new books. I was looking for the history section to see if there was anything on Western North Carolina specifically when I stumbled upon the current affairs section. This section, a feature of most stores, typically contains books by politicians and pundits attempting to raise their profiles, make sense of our current state of affairs or, more frequently, make a quick buck.

As I perused the section at Malaprop’s, I noticed that despite having 8-10 shelves dedicated to the subject, not a single book was authored by someone from a conservative viewpoint. There were plenty of books from those on the political left and even some promoting anarchy, but none from anyone I would judge to be right-of-center.

This column isn’t political, a point in which I take personal pride. Believe me when I say that it would have bothered me had the situation been reversed. My overriding concern is that it is just another visible symptom of people living within echo chambers that further polarize society.

This polarization is evident everywhere. People on the right avoid MSNBC, just as those on the left abhor Fox News. The left avoids Chick-fil-A, while the right has a newfound aversion to Bud Light. And, it’s not uncommon for people to defriend others on social media simply because they don’t agree with their political stances. The list is seemingly endless.

Growing up, I lived in a small community and attended small schools and churches. With minor exceptions, I couldn’t have told you anyone’s political views. This wasn’t because I was ignorant of the issue, as politics has fascinated me since I was at least ten years old. No, it was because people didn’t let their political views bleed over into every facet of their life. You may have avoided someone with good reason, but it was unlikely due to them having a D or R by their name.

Of course, this was a pre-internet time. Back then, we had three television stations from which to choose. Everyone watched the same news, which was void of opinion, and read the same newspapers, which kept the punditry restrained to the opinion page. Nobody cared about the politics of who made their ice cream, but rather whether it was available, affordable and tasty.

Tommy Druen is a syndicated columnist who resides in Georgetown, Kentucky.