For months now, it seems as though the presidential race has progressively decreased the standards of civic discourse to lower and lower depths. Undoubtedly, some have chosen to label this as the fault of certain partisans, while others surely see this as a reflection of our own civic and moral decline, and surely a great many others would point to the hyperpolarization as the culprit of our degrading public discourse. However, I think it is all too possible that candidates, on both sides of the aisle (not just the Republicans) are degenerating to such antics because it is a reflection of how fundamentally important this election year is. No candidate wants to give away any ground and the childish rhetoric we’ve seen “” Donald Trump being the prime example “” is the culmination of candidates employing an “any means necessary” approach to winning votes.
This has caused personal insults to be used in place of disputations over policy and our republic finds itself in a peculiar situation, one where we are so fed up with what the candidates are doing to each other, but at the same time refusing to let their partisan inclinations take a backseat to a more civic-minded and healthy discourse. In short, despite our distaste with the mudslinging, we too care so much about the election that we allow the insults to continue in the hopes that our preferred candidate will somehow prevail.
For myself, this is the first year where I have actively followed and stayed updated with the political news, and while the partisan gridlock is overwhelmingly depressing and frustrating, I am consoled by the fact that things have been much worse. “” Depending on our political affiliations and ideological principles, some may view the Democrats or the Republicans as the primary enemy because they promote a vision of America that seems so out of touch with one’s beliefs.
Above, I mentioned that things have been much worse and as next Tuesday will be the 155th anniversary of the first shots fired at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, I think it is important to pay respect to our past to appreciate how much more civil our current political climate is. In the prelude to the Civil War, those who believed differently LITERALLY were the enemy “” men who stood downrange of a sturdy rifle because of their political beliefs and the geography of their residence.
But, just because our current political climate is nowhere near as volatile as the early 1860s, that is no reason to be complacent in our current state of affairs. One of America’s greatest strengths is its citizens’ ability to work together for a higher purpose, despite being a many different people. Our national motto, E Pluribus Unum, speaks to this. As many different and distinct people, we all compose one nation “” and a magnificent one at that. There is so much more that unites us in principle and belief than there is that divides us; the spectrum of our political discourse just so happens to operate within that miniscule area on which we do disagree. But as is always true in America, there is hope for a better day and better times.
We do not have to be placated by our current state of discourse just because we know there have been more turbulent times. Let us take note of what House Speaker Paul Ryan recently said: “We think of [politics] in terms of this vote or that election. But it can be so much more than that. Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults “¦ If someone has a bad idea, we don’t think they’re a bad person. We just think they have a bad idea.”
We should all remind ourselves of Speaker Ryan’s words and realize that we are so much more capable of a discourse that does not attack the person, but rather demonstrates the inefficacy of the idea.
I would note that the current state of affairs we live in, replete with political mudslinging and personal insults, most likely is a reflection on all of our individual selves. We elect these people because we want them to represent us and if this is how they treat each other and their ideas, it logically holds that this is how we see our fellow citizens who do not agree with us.
Lastly, let us remember that we have come so far since Fort Sumter, where disputes over ideas and principles led to an extremely bloody war among our countrymen. And let us look to Speaker Ryan’s virtuous prescription of a civic discourse that will elevate our nation out of its current state and towards a more productive future “” for despite being many, we are all one. Let us not forget that during this election year, no American is the enemy.