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Greater divide, less willingness to respectfully disagree building pre-election stress

WBFO file photo

It goes without saying: a lot of people are on edge over this year's presidential election. One local expert says people are feeling frustrated and helpless by the increasing divide and disrespect. And he believes there will be no relief from it once the votes are counted and a winner is declared.

Dr. Steven Dubovsky, professor and chair of the Psychiatry Department in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine, says Americans have become increasingly polarized with their political stances over the years. But it doesn't stop there. As he sees it, we're no longer willing to respectfully agree to disagree.

"What you've seen is decreasing valuation of not only the other guy's ideas but the other person as well," Dubovsky said. "Anyone who holds a particular idea is completely wrong about everything. They're not worth considering. They're worthless and devalued."

That culture of complete disrespect can be seen at the top, Dubovsky points out, with the general behavior of the two major party presidential candidates this election cycle. He suggests they're even being rewarded for such behavior. 

But are we at the point of no return as a society? Not necessarily, according to Dubovsky, but closing the bitter division between Americans will begin with individuals becoming willing to take responsibility for one's own actions.

That includes a willingness to be less offended by other points of view.

"You have these people who felt traumatized because they saw 'Vote for Trump' written on the sidewalk. I've got news for you. That's not trauma," he said. "Trauma is you got blown up. Trauma is you lost your leg, or someone tried to kill you. Trauma is not you saw something that upset you. If we ourselves stop doing this, and say 'what's your feeling?' and 'here's my feeling about that,' and we stop rejecting each other as people because we disagree with each other, then maybe it will percolate back upward."

He predicts Americans will remain bitterly divided, even after the election is settled. Dubovsky believes neither major party is sincerely interested in taking charge of changing the current culture.

"Anyone who wants to bet a thousand dollars that's going to happen, I'd be glad to take that bet," he said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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