With the growing racial and political divides in this nation, it’s more important than ever to get back to an environment where civil debate is possible. Our democratic republic functions best when the Left and the Right can debate about issues and look for common ground when a debate reaches an impasse.
Both the Left and the Right have at times gone through crazy phases where there is intolerance for differences of opinion and they dehumanize those who disagree. During the 1970s, for instance, far Left groups like the Weathermen would do extreme acts to try to achieve their ideological goals. At this moment, though, it is the Right that is going through that crazy phase. It’s important that sane conservatives like Jeff Flake, George Will, David Brooks, and others fight for a conservative movement without the racism, anti-immigrant prejudice and religious intolerance of the Alt Right and the white nationalist segments of the Right Wing. As a progressive, I have no influence in this fight. But all progressives and moderates have a stake in its outcome. Progressives and moderates have no common ground with the Alt Right elements of the Right Wing.
I’m liberal, but I’ve been lucky to have had several conservative friends during the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, we’d have political debates. But these debates were always civil and sane, and we never got into personal insults. During those discussions, I would be thinking, “I don’t agree with these two points, but he has got a point about this. I don’t agree with his conclusions, but he makes several good points and I can see how he can come to their conclusions.”
Nowadays, my conversations with many conservatives are very adversarial and in too many of them, I think “This is crazy. We don’t even agree on basic facts.” I’ve noticed in recent political debates, the conservative is not really debating me. They are debate a stereotype of liberals that they probably picked up from Fox News or Breitbart. They often ask me to defend things that I never ever mentioned before and it catches me off guard because it comes from out of left field. Then when I go home and do some research on it, a lot of times it’s just a right wing conspiracy theory that has been floating out there for a while. Those discussion always wind up being two monologues going past each other rather than a dialogue.
I still have sane conservative friends with whom I can have a civil dialogue. It’s important for this country to get back to a stage where liberals and conservatives can be friends and have sane discussions on the issues.
Here is a 1988 video of liberal Democrat George McGovern and conservative Republican Barry Goldwater having a discussion on the MacNeil/Lehrer Report on the political situation of that time. Though they differed in their political views, McGovern and Goldwater became good friends.