Democracy relies on respectful debate

Nicole Marrone, BIPP Intern

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Religion, money, and politics. The three big ones that your parents banned you from discussing with strangers and at the dinner table. You don’t want to cause a problem. You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by having a different viewpoint. It’s inappropriate. After growing up in an environment where the emphasis was on manners, today’s political climate seems to have devolved into chaos. Politics is smack-dab in the middle of most discussions among family members, friends, and even strangers. So is this a problem?

 

Absolutely not. Though well-intentioned, the act of prohibiting political discussions in the name of manners has led to a growing number of individuals who are incapable of having a productive and insightful political debate. Democracy is fashioned for the people and their voices; it can only function when people are willing to listen to opposing viewpoints and form substantive arguments in response, in order to achieve the most mutually-beneficial outcome. Political debates are about respecting your opposition, their way of life, and incorporating their experiences in order to strengthen your own argument. When political debates are conducted correctly, they show respect for the individuals involved and the ideas presented, as well as the integrity of our democracy. Political debates can be in and of themselves mannerly.

 

So why is everything a mess now? Frankly, because this nation has lost its sense of respect for individuals with opposing viewpoints, and therefore has lost its ability to have constructive debates that better our democracy. Republicans and Democrats strongly resist bipartisanship; the government recently ended the longest shutdown in United States history, which was caused by an inability to compromise on funding for a border wall. The politicians we have chosen to represent us have failed to reconcile the divisions in our country and have instead chosen to heighten those divisions with empty rhetoric.

 

Democracy can only be successful when successful debate can ensue. However, in a recent survey, 39 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of Republicans strongly agreed with the statement that they found it increasingly harder to interact professionally with people with different political views than themselves. Of individuals who voted for Hillary Clinton, 39 percent strongly agreed with this statement, and of individuals who voted for U.S. President Donald Trump, 36 percent strongly agreed with this statement. These percentages should be zero. It is not an understatement to say that the very state of our democracy is in jeopardy when these statistics are higher.

One of the most beloved and famous friendships in our political history was that of Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Ginsburg is a leftist judge while the late Scalia was of the right. Yet, these two were best friends. In his own words, Justice Scalia said, “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. And some very good people have some very bad ideas.” This is the model which we should strive for as individuals who have the privilege to express our opinions freely and spark the change we wish to see in our government. We should be holding ourselves accountable, as well as our elected officials – no more group-think, no more ad hominem attacks, just respect for one another, our ideas, and our democracy.

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