We can debate without becoming enemies
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” — Proverbs 24:17
“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” — Abraham Lincoln
In my 15 years of newspapering, I’ve interviewed probably hundreds of politicians and political activists.
I’ve learned this: Most people — there are exceptions, of course — find their spot on the political spectrum because they believe the policies they endorse will improve their lives and the lives of those they love. At least until someone reaches a position of enough influence that lobbyists and political action committees start really spending corrupting money on them, most politicos adopt progressive or conservative positions because they believe progressives or conservatives will make the world a better place.
The hearts of anti-abortion proponents ache for the death of the unborn and believe in the strength of family to improve society. The hearts of pro-choicers ache for women they don’t want to see forced to change their very bodies to deliver a baby they don’t want or can’t afford to support, especially if those women didn’t have a say in whether they got pregnant.
Progressives who back the Green New Deal environmental policies fear such drastic action is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change that will ruin our very planet for our children and grandchildren. Opponents fear those strict regulations will strangle the economy today, causing immediate hardship on families.
Those are tough issues. Life-or-death issues.
According to a recent story from the Washington Post, Americans are so emotionally invested in those and many other issues that a growing share of us view those of a different political persuasion not just as opponents, but as enemies.
The Post (read the full story here: https://tinyurl.com/3tpustm8) compiled survey data from CBS News and the Pew Research Center showing more than 40% of Democrats and nearly 60% of Republicans view members of the opposing party as enemies. Growing shares of both Democrats and Republicans view members of the other party as closed-minded, immoral, and unintelligent.
Taken the other way, only a small percentage (less than a third) of either Democrats or Republicans believe politicians from the other party govern ethically, serve constituents of other political leanings, care about the middle class, or are tolerant of others.
The Post’s report builds upon something Pew published back in November showing nearly all people in both parties believed the other party winning the presidency would cause lasting damage to the nation (read the full Pew report here: https://tinyurl.com/1735ll14).
Many forces could be blamed for such partisan hostility. Filterless social media posts and the way we’ve siphoned ourselves into ideological cliques online. Misinformation designed to cement us in our beliefs, regardless of the facts. Heated rhetoric from politicians on the very floors of congressional chambers and hearing rooms. Politicians and PACs spending enough money on political advertising — most of it negative — to run a small country.
That November Pew report quoted researchers who said our division has hardened because Americans now divide themselves into political parties based not only on policies but also on multiple layers of identity, including race and religion, which “renders America’s divisions unusually encompassing and profound.”
No matter who or what’s to blame, the hostility is damaging.
You can work with your “esteemed colleague from across the aisle” or even with a “member of the opposing party”. It’s a different thing entirely to work with your “enemy,” especially when most of your constituents view your fellow lawmakers as enemies.
Aiding and comforting “enemies” is treason, punishable by death in this country, and too many Americans view bipartisanship as “treason.” Our hostility toward those with whom we disagree gives our elected leaders no incentive to compromise.
It may be pollyannaish to say, but, perhaps, if we recognize that our political opponents — just like us — take positions they believe will better the world, as opposed to thinking always that their positions are about ruining our world, political conversations could be different.
Rather than debating whether the other side ought to ever have power, we could debate the particulars of each side’s approach to solving problems.
There, we may find a midway point, a true compromise that doesn’t exist when we always see politics as “them” or “us”.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.