Political discourse in this country is failing us. Our debates have turned into competitive showdowns where the predominant goal is to advance one’s ideology. There are no calls for solutions, no spirit of compromise. Political dogma overrides all of that, creating a harsh environment for truth to survive in. We viciously defend our positions like wild dogs defending a kill. We would rather be right than do what is right, a problem we are all guilty of. We have convinced ourselves of our own moral superiority and stake our claims accordingly, stubbornly clinging to our opinions while reasonable solutions float by. It’s on all of us to do better.
As Americans, we should all have a vested interest in making the country better, and it starts with action. It starts with actually working together, not with some trite slogan, yet we have become so entrenched in our respective ideologies that we’ve made each other into the adversary. This should not be a zero-sum game. We should all be able to win. And while that is probably too fanciful of an idea for some, I would hope that we hold this ideal in high enough regard to strive toward.
We need to go back to what debate should always be about – truth. We all see truth from different perspectives, and while this often creates the division in our opinions of how things are, this can also be seen as a strength since more lenses should give us more ways to analyze something, and it should help us better decide what is objectively true and what is not. Instead, we often make the mistake of thinking that our way of understanding something is the only way.
The lengths people go to prove their own points and discredit others is disgusting. Personal attacks, blatant lies and conspiracy theories have infiltrated our political and social climate. A lack of civility has taken over, and we’ve forgotten how to listen to each other. We interrupt and talk over others in a desperate attempt to become the loudest in the room. Of course, this only serves to alienate the other as both sides become even more fixed in their beliefs.
We go to great lengths to criticize others and demand apologies but fail to realize our own faults. As Barack Obama said in his parting 60 Minutes interview, “I think it’s a measure of how the partisan divide has gotten so severe that people forget we’re on the same team.” And as George W. Bush said in a speech in Dallas last year, “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”
We can all do something about this on the micro-level. Instead of barricading ourselves behind our own worldview, ideologies and social media avatars, try to figure out how someone else thinks. If so many people feel a certain way, maybe it’s worth trying to understand why they feel that way. Instead of talking shit and acting tough behind the veil of the Internet, start a conversation, find some common ground and see where it leads you. What we will probably find is that the other makes some fair points, at times they are misguided and at other times they could benefit from more information, just like ourselves.
Suppose two people with opposing views came together to visit a classic American argument – What is the proper size and influence our government should have? It’s a debate that is as old as our country itself, one that has formed some of the political divisions that exist to this day. Our two people begin their discussion with two different ideas about how our government should be run, but they agree on what the purpose of government should be – to ensure the rights of its citizens while being run as effectively and efficiently as possible.
The person on the right is adamant that a small government with few restrictions is the best way to accomplish this. The person on the left is worried that too few of restrictions have a tendency to concentrate power at the top, at times resulting in inequality. Still, the left does see the value in reducing bureaucratic clutter, something that may even be used for the good of ordinary people. The right acknowledges that deregulation has at times led to a Wild West of sorts in which corruption rears its head. As a result, there is an admission that a smaller government should not come at the expense of the law. A system of checks and balances is still needed.
But of course, some will think this is far too unrealistic given our deep ideological divisions. Or perhaps the skepticism is because we are aware of how parasitic special interests plague our political system and the venality that follows. It’s hard not to be cynical, but we can always do better, especially on the individual level.
We are capable of civility, but it will take a concerted effort. We have to want to get along, and while some only pine for conflict and upheaval as means to change the status quo, this doesn’t have to be our only course of action. We’ve had that already, and what it produced was one of the most important documents in world history – the United States Constitution – a document that was meant to keep us away from that happening again, yet we find ourselves inching closer toward something similar.
Ratifying the constitution meant our Founding Fathers had to find solutions to their philosophical differences. It took a compromise proposed by Roger Sherman and an old sage in Benjamin Franklin to convince enough people of a resolution, but eventually a compromise was reached. Our country depended on it then, just as it does today. Let’s start with each other, and demand it from our government.