What does “divisive” actually mean?
According to Merriam-Webster, it means “causing a lot of disagreement between people and causing them to separate into different groups.”
From Latin “dis-: apart” + “videre: separate,” this term has become increasingly relevant in political discourse, and it seems to be taking on a slightly altered definition.
A recent San Diego Tribune article entitled, “Why Navy’s politically correct changes are divisive” by J.F. Kelly Jr. bemoans the change toward more gender-neutral titles in the U.S. Navy. The author argues that these titles unnecessarily abandon tradition — a tradition that has until now been exclusionary toward petty officers in the Navy who aren’t men.
Another article entitled, “Leave divisive narratives behind us now,” published in the Orange County Register Editorial Board argues that low voter turnout is the only reason for Trump’s presidential win. It claims that fighting for our nation to address its pervasive racism “only perpetuates racial tension and fear,” and we should all be quiet and rally behind Trump.
These examples from the last few weeks imply a new meaning for “divisive” — that is, “divisive” is becoming a word used to criticize and derail policy changes, political groups or movements that present a change to the established hierarchy.
Some SPU students, such as linguistics major and Russian student Kate Salgren, sense that this usage of “divisive” points to a disconnect between those who benefit from established norms and those who do not.
“Even at SPU, a lot of students don’t realize that there’s a hurting people in America,” Salgren says. “There’s one side, where people are hurting, while the other side is just saying ‘Suck it up, you’re fine!’ and telling them to stop being ‘divisive.’”
Sarah K. Burris, a writer and commentator out of Washington D.C. also notes this hypocritical use of the term in her RawStory article entitled, “Trump advisor whines that calling out Bannon’s white supremacist ties is ‘divisive.’”
“Apparently, it’s ‘divisive’ to point out Steve Bannon has ties to white supremacists,” she writes. “But according to Donald Trump’s communication director Jason Miller said on CNN that it isn’t divisive to appoint someone with ties to white supremacists to the White House.”
Why are criticisms of a white supremacist “divisive” but the presence of white supremacists in our government not so? Given our emerging redefinition of “divisive,” the answer shouldn’t be too difficult to work out, and it points to just how much fighting for change still needs to be done.
Ryan Moniz is a senior studying linguistics, cultural studies and creative writing.