Civil Discourse Has Left the Building and We Need to Call It Back

I wanted to follow up on my earlier comments about the shooting that took place earlier today involving Republican members of Congress that were practicing for the Congressional baseball game.   Obviously the media has been nonstop on this issue all day. The more I thought about it the more it started to resonate with me that the real reason is something I have talked about in the past and want to emphasize.

The influence of the media, both news media and social media, is greater today than ever before. We have reached a point where anyone can become part of the media in the social arena and the rhetoric continues to escalate. In the video media we have a 24 hour news cycle that needs content to fill the hours. Fox News is one of the highest rated cable channels for viewers and they bring talking heads in in the evening hours. These guys are playing to the base of the political right and inflaming them with harsh rhetoric. While Obama was President they challenged him on a nightly basis and fueled the fires of opposition to anything the President wanted to accomplish.

On the left we have MSNBC and it also has a cadre of talking heads who play to the political left base. They now have Donald Trump in their crosshairs and they spew out their hatred as viciously as some of their counterparts on Fox had done with Obama. I have to wonder if there really is a need for a Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity in the world of news? But it does not stop there. On talk radio we have Rush Limbaugh on the right and while nobody measures up to him in listeners there are similar talkers on the left. And lets not leave out the left leaning of the news organizations of CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC. NPR is funded by the government and it leans to the left.

One of the major culprits has become social media. Here everyday Americans can vent their hatred of anyone that disagrees with them. Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media have become forums for individuals and groups to swing to the hard right and hard left.

What I think has happened is that all of this shrill and harsh rhetoric enables people who are unstable and emboldens them to commit acts that they might never consider under normal circumstances. We have seen instances of this on both the right and left. There is no one group or party to blame, it is shared by everyone. It occurs because we allow it to occur. We like hearing people tell us things we agree with and so we gravitate to the stations and sites that will reinforce our belief that we are wrong and the other side is right.

A classic example of the results are Town Hall meetings being held by Members of Congress. In years past they were great examples of constituents showing up to ask questions of the Member and to engage in a discussion of issues facing the nation. Today that has changed and the Town Hall has morphed into a shouting match between conflicting constituent groups and the Member of Congress. People don’t come to engage in civil discussion, they come loaded with their point of view on an issue and determined to confront the Member of Congress and if he/she fails to agree with them they immediately begin shouting in an attempt to drown out the Member. This evolves into chants expressing one view or another. In the end the meeting ends with nothing productive being discussed and individuals walking away either disgusted with the entire event or pumping their fist that they had accomplished what they set out to do.

On college campuses around the country there seems to be a school of thought that we don’t’ have to engage in civil discussion. All we had to do is threaten people and demand that our view be accommodated over anyone else’s views. A classic example of this occurred last week in Washington State where black students at Evergreen University demanded that all white people leave the campus for a day. Anyone that disagreed was to be attacked and demands would be made to terminate them.

It goes further in college life. We keep seeing classes being introduced that are designed to further divide us as a nation. We see classes of how women are oppressed.

At the University of South Carolina they have a class “Ecofeminism” where the course description says the class is, “An exploration of the connections between oppression of women and oppression of nature.

A Dartmouth College course titled “Hand to Mouth: Writing, Eating, and the Construction of Gender” bears the description that postulates that our perceptions of food determine certain socially determined codes and they become an extension of a marker of class, gender and sexuality. I had no idea that the food I ate was doing this.

At some schools we have class entitled “The Problem of Being White”.

This list could go on and on but the point is these classes are not teaching anything meaningful and are designed to divide us in various ways. Speakers invited to come to a campus do so at their peril as some students and faculty will threaten them if they do not conform to the thought process they themselves espouse.

So what is the answer or solution? It has been said by many today that we have to tone down the political rhetoric. This is not one party’s problem; it is the nation’s problem. We are never going to agree on everything but we need to understand that we are allowed to have opposing views without making that opposition evil. In the last administration people on the right were guilty of calling President Obama names and the left has taken it to a new level in their hatred of President Trump. There is nothing to vile or disgusting that they would avoid saying in describing their hatred of President Trump. It has gone all the way to elected members of Congress using the most vulgar of language.

This has to stop and it means we all have to make it stop. We have to stand up and say no more shouting down speakers, no more chanting to block a Member of Congress from speaking at a Town Hall, no more turning a blind eye when people riot and smash windows and destroy property and no more allowing these talking heads to keep bashing the other side. How do you do that: Simple, turn them off. When their ratings plunge they and the networks airing them will get the message.

We need to get back to where we can have civil discussion. We need to get back to where it is inappropriate to call the President vile names. What we need to do is to get back to talking to each other and doing it civilly.

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