I really like my fellow Americans.
When I meet people at the grocery store, coffee shop, airports or most any place, I find people who are kind, helpful and good-natured. We are a people who like to laugh, we wave “hello” on our walks, and generally try to be good neighbors. We tend to share core commitments to our ideals of fairness, justice, and equality; when those ideals are not fully realized, we continue to strive after them.
I suspect if I opened a conversation about politics, even if we disagreed with one another, we would be try to be respectful, reasonable and polite. I believe that we all want the best for each other and for our country.
But, I am deeply concerned, even bereaved by the state of our national dialogue. Our ability to have a logical and fact-based discussion is undermined by our assumption of “fake news” with regard to any information that doesn’t agree with our own opinions.
Reasonable and civil conversations about important policy issues have deteriorated to the point of contempt for those who disagree with our positions. I remember when it used to be a badge of honor, an act of “statesmanship” when a member of Congress would “cross the aisle” in order to broker a legislative compromise.
Now such an action, even if it results in better public policy, is considered almost treasonous to one’s political party. When our national conversation becomes a matter of winners versus losers, we have failed at our fundamental commitment to seeking a “more perfect union.”
Of course, this lack of respectful civil engagement is not limited to Washington. On social media, I am struck by the absolutely vitriolic ways in which people talk to, talk past, and utterly seek to annihilate “the other side.”
Often the memes and article that are shared, on both sides of issues/candidates, show a simplistic, demeaning and unreasonable assessment of their opponent. I’ve seen compassionate and thoughtful people post personal perspectives only to be met with condescending or mean-spirited comments from their “friends” (ouch!).
We spew unkind accusations online that we would never say to one another in “real life.” Sadly, this behavior is not limited to social media. I’ve heard many times now of neighbors stealing or vandalizing the political lawn signs of neighbors with whom they disagree. What has become of respectful civil discourse?
Adding to the deep problem is the partisan nature evident in so much of our cable and online sources of “news.” Where we used to expect journalism to be fact-based and unbiased, we now seek out media sources that affirm our bias, safely barricading ourselves in our worldview. We reduce complex positions and policies to decontextualized sound bites and then lambast “the other side” for their stupidity.
Truth be told, neither Republicans or Democrats are the evil “other” we want to make them out to be, but merely our fellow citizens who approach public policy from a different set of assumptions and viewpoints. We may disagree profoundly with those positions, but we do damage to ourselves and our country when we demean and dismiss one another so casually.
Where our political opinions lead to the degradation of human life or denial of justice, we must stand firm. Grievous injustices aside, for the well-being of our nation, we need to do better than this partisan, verging on tribal, entrenchment.
I don’t usually write such a heavy article, but as you can read, I am concerned for the country that I love.
It is not the political differences that concern me. We have always and will always have differences.
What concerns me is the rhetoric of fear, suspicion and mistrust of one another that seems to have a grip on all of us. This fear is eroding our confidence in even something as fundamental to our democracy as voting and trusting that voters will be allowed to vote and that our ballots will be counted. We are a point at which I think we all need to take a few steps back (and a few deep breaths), and commit ourselves to respectful citizenship, fundamental fairness and the delicate nature of our shared democracy.
When this election is over, I trust we will all still be patriotic Americans, friends and neighbors, committed to the well-being of our nation. As a matter of civic duty, let’s all commit ourselves to thoughtful and respectful dialogue.
Let’s watch our language, our tone and keep an eye out for our own confirmation bias. And, in the closing months of this election cycle, let us remind ourselves over and over and over again, that “what unites us is much greater than what divides us.”