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Political Civility

Date: 2017-05-07
Tags: political-theory

I drafted a letter to my representive Tim Murphy about his support of the AHCA. While it wasn't profanity ridden, it was lacking in civility. It ended

May you rot in hell, having to live and relive the suffering that the passage of this bill, if it passes the Senate, would inflict upon nearly all of your constituents. Over and over, reliving every mental health crisis, every overdose, every preventable death I wish to pass before you. You represent us, not the Republican party.

and contained lines like

Your lack of understanding of the ACA and the AHCA, your rush to push this through without CBO scoring, and your complete apathy for your constituents leave me disgusted with your spineless, wretched, soulless being not worthy of the title `human'.

It wasn't the most polite letter to say the least. It was a (partial) release of the frustration I've been feeling with our system and the inaccessibility of our elected officals and the obvious lack of care for what's best for their constituents in order to bend to party politics. It's beyond frustrating. Our elected officals appear to have no oversight and no repurcusions.

We're at a point where I didn't care that the letter I drafted was hateful and incindiary because I didn't even believe it would be read beyond the point they realized I was against Murphy's actions. This caused a rift in me and I sent it to my wife and some of my closest friends. They all said the same thing, more-or-less, "While I agree and understand, it'll be discarded as hate mail with no thought given to your message." That's true. And even if I believe it won't be read, I should still strive to uphold the virtues of civil discourse. (I did draft and send a less incendiary letter which I'll post soon.)

Letting our political discourse be driven by hate, anger, emotion, and team-psychology is an enormous problem, especially right now. The hatred that Republicans felt towards Obama resulted in his Constitutional Right to nominate a SCOTUS Justice to not even be entertained. (Hearings weren't even held! The Republicans controlled the Senate and could have simply voted No.) It led to the disastrous AHCA, which isn't even an attempt to fix the problem, only to strike back at the Democrats and Obama. The hatred many liberals are espousing currently isn't the solution. It's not the way forward.

If all we expect from our opposition is hate and rhetoric, we maintain no reason to actually listen to what they're saying. When we fail to listen, empathize, and understand (note, I didn't say agree with or capitulate to) other points of view, society, as a whole, becomes the loser.

I can pick many examples from the past few months. The day following the election I couldn't do anything. I was so wrapped up in the hate that 46% of the country rallied behind a man who brags about sexual assault, espouses racist views, and has no real understanding of policy that my chest hurt and I was red and hot for days. I was mortified, angry, and hateful.

Over the next few months, I've slowly learned a different understanding of that 46% of America. While I still vehemently disagree that any reason justifies supporting Donald Trump, maybe I have the privileged of the moral high ground. I'm not destitute. I haven't just lost my job of decades. I haven't had a huge amount of uncertainty injected into the core of my life. Clinton told these people that she supports better educational programs and other means of bringing them into different industries and those industries to them. I can only image that all these people heard was "we'll try something, but you're going to have to deal with the uncertainty". Trump offered a very clear "You've been wronged; I will right it and get your old job back." The emotional trauma of having what have become the core of your life ripped out from you isn't something I've ever lived through. However, by trying to better understand these people's position, I can better understand the reality of the problem faced. They aren't a thought experiment or statistical value -- they're people who are fighting for their lives and livelihood.

That said, for the most part these people are not who I get to interact with often. (Not that I avoid them. I'm a techie, as are many of my friends and most of civic groups I attend have like minded people. We all have a natural, self-imposed filter bubble. It's not ideal, but it's practically what happens, and we're all best to break out of it. We, including me, should break out much more often.) I do run the risk of simply making things up and creating sob stories. I run the risk of just being silly. I don't think I am, at least entirely though, based upon my interactions with and interviews I've read with this group of people.

Do I think they made the choice that was best for their self interest? No, absolutely not. I think they made the worst choice they could have possibly made. However, I'm now able to have a conversation that doesn't begin "How could you possibly have supported someone who brags about sexual assault and is so stupid he doesn't even see the racism and violence he spouts?" Perhaps now we could discuss their job, their prospects, their thoughts about moving forward. There will be idealogical misses -- I've met many coal miners that believe Obama's EPA put them out of a job, not cheap oil and natural gas -- but a conversation could still happen. And that is the important part: A conversation happened.

Moreover, name calling isn't useful. Not only does it create barriers to having the other person talk with you, but it's more-often-than-not coming from a place of hate. When someone complains about "immigrants" or "Mexicans" taking their job, they may not be racist, and it's counterproductive to call them one. They may have actually lost their job to cheaper labour here in the States, or even in their hometown. While they're description of the problem may grate ears or sound like a dog whistle for something it's not, it might not be factually wrong. However, maybe the conversation could be turned from immigration to if the problem is really immigrants or if the miniscule labour protects and weak unions had a role in their job loss. Cheap labour is the immediate, visible cause -- but not necessarily the way to a solution. We need to move beyond our politically inspired hatred to understand that your fellow citizen is actually facing a problem; writing them off as racist or over-exaggeration is no way to come to understand the problem, let along work towards a solution.

Our hate and anger build walls just as terrible as Trump's proposed border wall, and, honestly, at a much higher cost to our society.