The United States has reached a level of polarization unseen since the Civil War, as liberals and conservatives grow increasingly unable to find common ground. In fact, this polarization has led to instances of politically motivated violence over the past several years. Examples include the protests and riots in various cities in response to the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police, clashes between groups such as Antifa and the Proud Boys, and the events of January 6th, 2021, as thousands of protestors gathered in Washington, D.C. over the legitimacy of Joe Biden's 2020 Electoral victory before suddenly storming the Capitol. This paper argues that such polarization and violence should not be seen as unusual or unprecedented, but is instead a manifestation of a major observation found in moral foundations theory, taken to its logical conclusion: that liberals and conservatives place larger emphasis on differing foundations in their moral reasonings, thus allowing the two sides to accuse one another of moral deficiency, if not malice outright, and furthermore see violence against the other as increasingly justified. Supplementing this attitude are declines in social capital and participation, thereby driving social atomization and balkanization, exacerbated by the rise of biased news sources, especially on social media.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Sciences
School of Politics, Security and International Affairs
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Campus-only Access)
Bakich, Grayson, "They Are Not Like Us: Polarization and Justification of Violence in the Contemporary United States" (2022). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 1509.
Restricted to the UCF community until February 2026; it will then be open access.