I’ve had this blog kicking around in my head for a few days, but this article in the NY Times pushed me to actually write it. I totally agree with the writer, even though he’s a liberal. See what I did there? I tried to discount that he could have a good opinion because of his politics. While a certain level of this is totally appropriate and should be taken into account, we’ve come to a place in our politics where we are completely shutting down opinions and positions and arguments we don’t like. It is important to understand another person’s perspective from which their positions are coming, but we’ve gotten to the point of completely ignoring the contributions people we disagree with can make to a discussion.
Yes, this has always gone on to some extent, and I’ll get back to that later.
We have spent the last seven years having reporters and commentators explain away opposition to our president as racism, nothing more. Reporters do it with “some have opined that the opposition to this bill is steeped in racism” (who is some? What a convenient out). Conservatives have been wailing about Obama’s Marxist tendencies, as if that means nothing that comes out of his mouth is worth involving in the debate. We can’t have a civil discussion about voter ID and point out that minority voting participation has risen in every state that has implemented it because the people we’re trying to discuss it with are shouting “Racist! Bigot! You want to suppress minorities!” We can’t even discuss female bathroom safety without bringing into question the hearts and intents of the people involved. A recent discussion about it I was part of went straight to “evil Christians”.
As the writer of the article I linked above points out, in many research studies it’s been shown that the liberals at these colleges dismiss the opinions of conservatives and Christians immediately, and label us uninformed, idiotic, bigoted, racist, etc. I have liberals in my own family that, despite me being a conservative myself, have an image of conservatives being racist, rich, white people with their foot on the neck of their workers. And I know conservatives who have come to see liberals as just chomping at the bit to open up gulags and throw all climate change deniers and Christians into them.
While we look at each other like this, closing our minds to other opinions by reducing the value of the speaker to zero, we make our heads and our worlds echo chambers. But what we really need is sounding boards, open discussion, finding middle ground. We can’t have reasonable conversations about the issues of the day when liberals are told by voices on their side that conservatives want to stone gays, and conservatives are told that liberals want to post speech police on their pulpits to arrest people for their religious beliefs. Nor can we have either side threatening to do that to silence the opposition. The very basis of freedom of speech, a fundamental right for us to come to consensus solutions to issues, is everybody gets their say and the majority work it out. Both sides need to be careful about silencing, by force or ignoring, opposing views because the pendulum swings both ways.
I firmly believe the vast majority of Americans, no matter their political stripes, are good hearted in that they want America to be safe, they want the needy fed and clothed, they don’t want people dying in the streets because they can’t get medical care anywhere. The current political climate has jaded a lot of people, for sure. It’s made people who no longer see those who truly need welfare, for all the people who are just leeching. But it’s also made people who ONLY see those who need help, not all the people who could work and take care of themselves but out of a sense of entitlement or laziness take from those who need it. Americans, though, at their heart, are a charitable, caring people who just have different opinions on how to solve the problems we need to solve. Heck, we even disagree on whether some things are problems. I realize that even in writing this it’s impossible for me to hide my own political stripes as well.
However, I’m trying to do better at not dismissing opposing viewpoints. I took a few months off of political debates and posting stuff online and I saw all of this when I stepped back. It was shocking to realize the level of hatred laced rhetoric people direct at their opposition. I will concede there are evil people, some of them are politicians and some of them are rich. But most politicians and rich people are as good hearted and well intentioned as the vast majority of Americans and want the best for their constituents, whether they be voters or employees.
There has always been an undercurrent of dehumanizing and discounting the opposition, but there used to be adults in the room. Social media is an unregulated cesspool in most cases where people can fling stuff around. Perhaps because of social media, however, the traditional media and politicians have stopped being those adults in the room that they’re supposed to be. I remember when Paul Ryan proposed some Medicaid reforms, to save it, and the national news played only one Democrat response: that Paul Ryan wanted to push grandma off a cliff. Conservative politicians have fed the (so far) lie that Obama plans to use his AmeriCorps rebirth to stage a coup and never leave office. I stopped watching national news after that Paul Ryan incident because they never bothered to actually review the elements of the proposal, the issues each was meant to address, and get serious Democrats to offer substantive arguments against each point. It was the last straw for me.
I’ve heard more from the conservative side on this for the last 20 years, so I have lots more examples I could make of Democrats and liberals than Republicans and conservatives, but that’s not what this about. This is a plea to begin pushing back against people who say we should just close our ears because somebody is liberal, conservative, Marxist, whatever. When a college campus says a speaker can’t come on campus because they are conservative and their views are “controversial”, alumni and the community need to push back. The media needs to question the suppressing of speech, not the hearts and minds of the protestors or the speaker, because that’s the issue.
Can we all please take a step back and start focusing on the issues, give every voice a legitimate opportunity and start coming to a consensus again? Can we all please drop our stereotypes of our political “opponents” and consider what their proposals can do? And most of all, can we have an open mind that there’s a good chance we could learn something? When you believe the people who disagree with you are nefarious, it makes it impossible to consider what they are saying very well could be the truth . . .