Like you, like every reasonable American, I condemn the storming of our nation’s Capitol. That being said, if you’re expecting to walk away from this holding your head high in righteousness because you’re on the “right” side of things, I think you’ll be disappointed.
I want to inspire reflection and not revulsion or superiority. I want to point out the part we have all had leading up to this. And, yes, I include myself.
Think about the last time you talked with someone about the state of things as you see them. Was this conversation imaginary because you felt you couldn’t speak freely? Was it real and civil? Did it include people outside your own circle? Did it include people outside your own class?
The point is, it seems like no one talks anymore, and for a variety of reasons. Our national discourse has become a zero-sum game where I win by you losing, where I win when I force you to have my values instead of letting you live your way and I mine.
I believe this has led largely to reasonable people abdicating their place in our national discourse; only the hardened and those seeking a fight are eager to step out in this climate.
This is a shame. It shouldn’t be this way. Politics in America has long been a contact sport. I don’t think I can remember a time in my life prior to now, however, when we played by “prison rules.”
I have other bad news. I think you’re deluding yourself if you believe this started with President Trump and will end with him. It’s not that simple.
This started when you and I chose to not talk to each other. It started when we chose not to know people from a variety of jobs, locations, and upbringings. It started when we decided to consume only the kind of media we agreed with — the kind that pandered to our human desire for tribalism and sensation.
It got worse in how we confused policy preferences for enduring character traits.
How many of you indulged in referring to those with conservative leanings as, to paraphrase candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 remark, bitter clingers?
How many of you see those with concerns about immigration, the growth of government and its intrusion into daily life, the economy, and gun rights as ignorant, bigoted, xenophobic, and heartless?
How many of you indulged in referring to those with liberal leanings as, to use a common phrase, “snowflakes” or “bleeding hearts”?
How many of you see those with concerns about the environment, those less fortunate, and gun control as ignorant, interested in controlling your life, and without reason?
Just as an exercise, I want you to try the following with me.
Without agreement, without condoning, I want you to ask yourself why a group of people would feel so strongly about the election that they join protests and demand of their representatives that we investigate the 2020 election.
Without agreement, without condoning, I want you to ask yourself why a group of people would feel so strongly about racism as to join protests and demand of their representatives that we have change.
Do you have any neutral answers to either one? Can you think up at least one reasonable response for each? I would say that unless and until you can voice the arguments of those whose views do not line up with yours in language that is not demeaning or sarcastic, you cannot call yourself reasonable.
If you cannot call yourself reasonable in my view then you are not contributing to the solution of making this a country where we can live peaceably with each other.
I hope for a return to a country that is closer to center. I have my own views, of course, and I passionately defend them. I advocate for the things I want out of my country and you are free to do the same.
We might disagree on how we get there, but I have the feeling that most of us are closer on a great many issues than our isolation and media have led us to believe. We just have to remember that.
To continue as we have will not work. If we continue not listening to the voices of those we disagree with, if we continue not trying to expand our circle, if we continue to not allow others to make choices for themselves on issues where we don’t affect each other (and compromise where we do), we let the tips of the bell curve make our policy.
Continuing as we have is going to further encourage the kind of people who view storming the Capitol or burning and looting cities as legitimate political discourse. No one is served by that.
Cory Gaines of Sterling, who runs the Colorado Accountability Project on Facebook, lives for what Richard P. Feynman called “the pleasure of finding things out.”
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