Throughout American history, the country’s never been short on controversial topics, which often include a variety of serious issues. That said, we’ve always been a nation where controversial topics and alternate points of view are embraced as well as discussed. In fact, the only way to reach a solution regarding these highly controversial social issues is to foster discussion and dialogue. This is one of the Flag’s ongoing missions, and something we try to accomplish daily by presenting competing perspectives in our daily newsletter.
As noted in surveys conducted by political science groups, such as the Pew Research Center and CQ Researcher, there is widespread disagreement concerning what opposing viewpoints are the correct ones when it comes to fixing the various challenges facing America.
Having some level of agreement about what these problems are is potentially a good starting point. Here is a look at some of the most controversial topics currently facing America as gathered by the Pew Research Center. We’ve also sketched out the various pro/con arguments, and where these issues appear to be heading.
Health Care: Affordability & COVID-19
There is no denying that health care remains one of the most hotly-debated controversial topics. In addition, amid the COVID-19 pandemic the health care debate has undergone changes of its own, involving questions about vaccines, mandates, restrictions, and more. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic could also distract Americans from ongoing chronic health issues, such as lowering the cost of prescription drugs, controlling obesity, treating different forms of cancer, and more.
The issue — like most currently plaguing American politics — is largely one of funding. Americans are sharply divided on how much money the government should be spending on health care, and what laws should be passed in an effort to control health care costs. With the Affordable Care Act established as law, there’s extensive debate as to how it could be improved. Some say it should be expanded upon, while others favor the idea of abandoning the AC altogether in favor of a different program.
The Federal Budget Deficit
America’s budget deficit is $31 trillion — and rising — mostly as a result of the spending involved with entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Dealing with this deficit and determining its importance is where the controversy lies. Roughly speaking, the two options are increasing taxes (particularly on the wealthiest Americans) or cutting spending, particularly within entitlement programs. Of course, telling taxpayers they may not get access to benefits and programs they already paid for is a difficult proposition, and only adds further fuel to the controversial nature of the topic.
Violent Crime and Law Enforcement
Crime has increased recently in many parts of the country, particularly violent crimes. Individuals on the right have argued this is the result of left-leaning policies, saying progressives are too often “soft on crime.” There’s also a perception some Americans are overly negative towards law enforcement, leaving cops at risk. Many on the right have blamed the rise of the so-called “Defund the Police” movement, arguing that this has made it harder for cops to do their jobs, and noting that police recruitment numbers are down. Still, some say conservatives don’t show enough willingness to criticize police officers.
Gun Violence and Gun Control
Many Democrats argue enacting stricter gun control laws is an easy way to reduce crime in America. They say it’s too easy for people to get guns in this country, leading to the unnecessary deaths of civilians and members of law enforcement alike. The debate lies in balancing out the need for safety with the right to bear arms, as provided by the Constitution. Specifically, there’s controversy as to how much regulation should be allowed in light of the Second Amendment. Democrats typically argue for closed background checks, emergency protection orders, and banning certain weapons. Republicans, citing the Second Amendment, are more likely to oppose such efforts.
Racism, Black Lives Matter, and Critical Race Theory
Issues related to race and racism have been a controversial part of American life since before the US was founded. Much of this conversation ties back to chattel slavery and the various challenges African Americans have faced throughout the nation’s history. Specifically, since the end of slavery and the Jim Crow south, many members of racial minority groups in America continue to face economic struggles.
The debate surrounding racism has spilled over into other more specific controversies, including the concept of reparations, affirmative action, and the treatment of African Americans by law enforcement. A legacy of racial mistreatment at the hands of police partially inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, which played a prominent role in the protests that unfolded in the summer of 2020 following George Floyd’s death. Meanwhile, some on the right say Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory are forms of race-baiting, designed to fuel resentment and a desire for revenge rather than progress.
As America evolved and the role of government expanded, a basic social safety net was established, including things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs. However, many argue this basic floor is insufficient and fails to cover the needs of most Americans. Generally speaking, some argue America’s wealthy are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is shrinking in size. The debate then centers on possible solutions, and how prevalent the problem truly is.
Some respond to income and economic inequality by arguing that America needs a more robust government, higher taxes on the wealthy, and better public funding of various resources. The thinking is that gives poor and middle-class Americans a better opportunity to succeed. On the other side are those who argue that the government needs to become less involved, particularly when it comes to meddling with private markets. This typically includes the notion that fewer taxes and less regulation would spur economic growth, improving the situation of all Americans.
Illegal immigration remains a major problem in the United States, with hundreds of thousands of Americans illegally entering the country every year. Of course, it’s a complicated and multi-layered debate. Increased controls, building a comprehensive wall, and using advanced technology to better secure the border are all options that might help improve the issue. However, that also ignores the question of what should be done with the millions of undocumented immigrants already in this country, some who pay taxes, and serve in vital employment roles. This also comes amid a tight labor market in which millions of jobs are already unfilled.
Most of the issues on this list spark controversy in terms of how Americans prefer to see the state or society respond. For climate change, many Americans disagree about whether or not the issue is significant or caused by human beings. While many climate scientists say that it is real and influenced by humans, there remains extensive debate over how it can best be controlled — and whether or not it should be. This is largely because of the economic aspects. Any action to control this problem could have massive impacts on a wide array of jobs and industries.
Unemployment is also on the list of controversial topics, but not for typical economic reasons. Joblessness is at its lowest level in decades, meaning American workers now have more opportunities to leave their jobs and find new ones. This, some would argue, has led to a major increase in inflation, but also helped to drive wages upward.
Extensive debate remains about how to address the stubborn unemployment that remains, while also giving Americans the chance to earn a living wage. This extends to a wide range of areas, including increasing the minimum wage, how unemployment will be impacted in the long run by advances in artificial intelligence and computer science, and what Americans can do to better prepare for the rise in automation that seems to be coming in the not-so-distant future.
Quality of Pre-K–12 Schools
Schools and school boards are typically highly-politicized given the sensitive nature of children’s education and upbringing. Various advocates and editorials have called for increased public input on what is taught at K–12 schools and in higher education. Some focus more on increasing educational funding, arguing that many students don’t have access to high-quality education, which amounts to a denial of basic human rights and civil rights.
These debates have stretched into many areas, including specifics about curriculum and the rights of transgender students to play sports. It can be difficult for observers to separate the data-driven aspects of arguments in this arena from often hyper-partisan talking points.
Many in the media and some in law enforcement say domestic terrorism is on the rise, which is likely why it’s landed on the Pew Research Center’s list of controversial topics for 2022. This terrorism comes in many forms, including murders, mass murders, and race-based attacks. One argument is that domestic terrorism in America has increased partly due to the spread of hate speech and other propaganda, particularly in online communities.
There are many potential causes of domestic terrorism in America, but potentially fewer solutions. The spectrum spanning free speech and what others consider to be illegal includes a massive grey area. Many on the left argue Republicans have been quick to embrace racist or bigoted practices online, while the right has classified some aspects of the left’s messaging as violent and prone to division.
Infrastructure and State of Roads & Bridges
Most in America agree that our infrastructure is old, crumbling, and in need of real improvement. This includes our roads, bridges, waterways, airports, and more. The issue becomes more complicated when it comes to paying for these improvements. A legislative package aimed at infrastructure passed late last year did little to answer the issue fully, as many argue America still needs more work when it comes to infrastructure improvement.
The Death Penalty and Capital Punishment
The death penalty is still legal in 27 states, although it is losing support nationwide. Many Democratic states have already done away with capital punishment, and several Republican states are considering eliminating it. Still, it’s largely undecided in terms of the nation’s laws and moral character. It’s one of those controversial topics that sometimes flies under the radar as a result.
The death penalty, used only in cases of murder, is surrounded by a number of already controversial topics. Some allege defendants are more or less likely to receive the death penalty based on the race of the the victim, as well as the accused. There is also extensive outcry over the obviously irreversible nature of the death penalty, as there have been numerous cases where a person who was convicted and executed was later exonerated. Finally, there is debate over its effectiveness, as many argue there’s no evidence that the death penalty deters violent crime.
Others, including many victim’s rights groups, note that the death penalty allows the family of victims — and the state — to get a sense of closure, as an executed criminal can no longer terrorize society.
Debates over sexism and women’s rights have consistently riled up many, with controversy often centering on the idea of traditional roles for women within family life or the workplace. This also sometimes spills over into questions concerning what opportunities women are given and how involved the government should be in terms of enforcing equality. Sexual harassment, especially at work, is a sub-theme of the broader sexism topic. This exploded into the forefront a few years ago, when the #MeToo era saw countless celebrities and powerful figures losing their careers over major harassment allegations. Like many issues, this also intersected with cultural roles and expectations, further inflaming passions on all sides.
American society has arguably gotten even more controversial of late. Social media, partisan news coverage, and current events have all combined to bring out the worst in people at times. These issues are not going away — in fact, passions seem to become further inflamed every day. The country’s list of controversial topics is always expanding as well, with things like the war in Ukraine and government controls over speech pushing their way to the forefront. Plus, you never know when an issue previously thought to be resolved — such as cloning, eliminating the electoral college, or packing the Supreme Court — will rear its head again.
It should be the hope of all American citizens that we can get back to a place where the starting point surrounding debate is having a civil conversation, not launching a personal attack. Solutions can reached by working collaboratively toward compromise, which is also a major theme of American history.