One of the things that has always made our democracy viable, something that seems to be strained today, has been the ability of Americans to respect fellow Americans of differing viewpoints. American history is rich with close friendships of individuals of differing views: the Republican Thomas Jefferson and the Federalists John and Abigail Adams; the conservative Republican Barry Goldwater and the liberal Democrat George McGovern; conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan and liberal Democrats Tip O’Neil and Ted Kennedy; Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George H.W. Bush; and liberal Massachussetts Senator Ted Kennedy and conservative Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. Even though they disagreed on their political philosophies, they still were able to find common ground for political solutions and to forge personal friendships based on trust and affection.
These type of friendships are less common nowadays, with the hyper partisan political atmosphere in American society. A few decades ago, this country had more political dialogues, where both sides would try to persuade the other through debates about policies and an attempt to appeal to shared values. Nowadays, political conversations are more like 2 monologues running past each other rather than a dialogue. People seem to think that you can bully people of differing views into accepting their point of view. Or if agreement is not possible, one group thinks they can use personal attacks to undermine the other side’s reputations and intimidate and silence their voices.
There is a debate right now about civility. Some people think that being civil means being silent when one disagrees with the other side. It is similar to the argument that some people made in the 1960s about nonviolent civil disobedience. I think a person can be civil and still be able to voice our dissent against the policies of the current administration. I think whenever the political debate degenerates into personal attacks, thoughtful debates on policy is impossible, and it degrades both sides. For liberals, when we become as incivil as our more intemperate opponents, it plays into the hands of President Trump, who thrives in that type of uncivil atmosphere. I remember in the 2016 Republican primaries, when Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz floundered when they tried to match Donald Trump’s uncivil speech. I always thought that John Kasich was smart to try to stay out of that sort of thing.
Below is a 1988 PBS News Hour discussion with George McGovern and Barry Goldwater.