With the Democratic primary debates taking place earlier this summer, the US presidential election season has officially begun. Yes, it may be hard to believe but election day is less than 15 months away. And with that important date just around the corner, most of us remember the sometimes contentious, often polarizing and downright rancorous tone that many political discussions took on in the last election. No matter what your political affiliation may be, the one thing that the majority of all voters agree upon is that the real loser in the last election was the loss of thoughtful political discourse.
As we once again lead up to the next election, we offer up some thoughts on how we can all work to enhance and improve political discourse—no matter what side of the aisle you sit on.
Not everyone is right or wrong: One of the wonderful things about American politics is the opportunity for disparate people to come together in a public forum to advocate and advance issues that are near and dear to their heart. But in the last decade or so, a healthy respect for differing opinions has been replaced by polarizing language that name a particular issue, person or party as being “right” or “wrong.” Sure, there are issues and positions that are more aligned with one particular party, but there is plenty of room for us to stay open to working together while respecting that some people simply have —and will always have—different opinions.
Labeling: As we said above, not everyone is “right” “wrong” “conservative” “liberal” or “right” “left wing.” There may be news stations and talking heads that use polarizing language and labels that identify with one party or another but remember there are many voters who are much more moderate on many issues. Some people who vote Democratic may feel more conservative on some issues and the same goes for Republicans who may lean a little left on other issues. The point is that we can learn from one another and work together by listening to people from opposing parties and not simply labeling someone who differs from us as “right wing”, “leftist”, or any other simplistic description meant to belittle or degrade.
Research the Issues: Social media played a huge part—both good and bad—in the last presidential election and the term “fake news” became a headline of its own. Whether the news was from a foreign propaganda machine or it was simply a misleading headline or biased reporting, many people continue to base their political opinions on information that is either false, in error or poorly researched. By doing a deep dive into an issue, voter research can lead to much more thoughtful conversations and true debate.
Respect: As the last election proved, this country has some deep divides when it comes to many political issues and candidates. And that is absolutely fine. But when we come face to face with people who think or vote differently, it doesn’t have to be a mudslinging contest—it can be a real opportunity to show respect for a fellow human being and to value alternative viewpoints. And who knows? You may learn something you never knew!
Opting out: Social media and online commentary forums have empowered many people—and some of the politest people you meet in person can turn into some of the harshest and most disrespectful haters behind the safety of their laptop computer. For whatever reason, many social media users sometimes turn ugly during online political discussions, using language and rhetoric that divides us and often ruin personal and professional relationships. But here’s the good news: you don’t have to participate in this sort of passive aggressive online discourse. If you feel you’ve made a good point on something that you are passionate about, then leave it at that and walk away from trying to convince someone to agree with you. If you catch yourself entering troll territory, simply pause before you post and let your reaction be more rational than reactive. The same can be done with in person discussions. If you feel a discussion is entering inflammatory territory, take the high road and walk away.
Social occasions: This sage piece of advice seems more current than ever: leave politics off the table at family gatherings, holidays and other social occasions that are not political in nature. Of course, there is always room for friendly discussions and light conversations, but many a Thanksgiving dinner or wedding reception has turned nasty when it comes to differing views on who or what makes America great.