Over the course of my life I’ve noticed that the level of political discourse has taken a steep decline. Instead of the give-and-take of a healthy dialogue, too often we’ve seen two monologues going past each other as both the Left and the Right seem more interested in shouting each other down than engaging in a constructive conversation. Today, it seems like people only know how to troll and demean those who disagree and they no longer know how to have any sort of constructive conversation. People seem more interested in bullying and coercing others into agreeing with them rather than trying to persuade them with reasoned arguments. Or else they try to silence those who persist in disagreeing.
I’m a liberal, but I remember in the 1980s and early 1990s being able to have civil and informative conversations with my conservative friends. Over the years, it became more difficult to find conservative friends whom one could have the normal give-and-take of a civil discourse on political issues. Several progressive friends told me that they had similar experiences and they blame the rise of Fox News. Recently I accidently got a chance to watch 10 minutes of Sean Hannity in Fox and it was an exasperating experience. There are legitimate criticisms of the Democrats and the Left. But Hannity wasn’t giving legitimate criticisms, he was just mouthing right wing propaganda to demonize Democrats.
I’m mainly focused on my bad experiences with conservatives. But the more extreme elements of the Left can be just as guilty of demeaning those whom they disagree. In 2016, I had some bad experiences with some of the more extreme Bernie Sanders supporters. That same year, I got into some arguments with Filipino leftists who were trying to defend President Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings.
Our democratic republic is based on the idea that people of differing views can debate the issues, compromise when the debate reaches an impasse, and find common ground to reach some consensus. No group or ideology has a monopoly on truth. Progressives, moderates, conservatives, democratic socialists, libertarians all are right some of the time, and they are all wrong some of the time. It’s important to have a diversity of views to point out the blind spots in all of our thinking and viewpoints. Without a healthy respect for differences of opinion, it’s impossible to have the give-and-take of ideas that is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy.
The argument that I am making is just basic Civics 101. This argument shouldn’t be controversial to people, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum, if they have a shared commitment to democratic values. I’ve read that many schools have dropped civics from their curriculum, and this has led many Americans to be ignorant of our constitutional government and our rights and duties as citizens in a democratic republic.
In this 2018 CBS Sunday morning segment, Mo Rocca talked with Supreme Court Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch about the importance of civics education. Rocca also talks with Eric Liu, who created Citizen University to help cultivate the values of good citizenship; and with Chicago social studies teacher Mary Ellen Daneels, who uses what passes for politics these days as object lessons in how not to be a good citizen.