The impeachment of Donald Trump is taking place in the Senate. This partisan spectacle is pitting one staunch side against another. Republican and Democratic senators are slinging mud and screaming at each other, as each side tries to win the impeachment hearing. This level of complete lack of civil discourse is not just a problem in D.C. It is actively being reproduced across the country as families, neighbors and co-workers discuss politics.
Why are Americans constantly fighting about politics? Simply put, when politics is discussed, the stakes are high, and feelings often get hurt. Rarely do discussions about politics lead to understanding or the finding of common ground. This is understandable, since we all are unique and believe vastly different things about the world around us. We all know this, yet many of us constantly find ourselves in yelling matches with family, friends or coworkers.
Our disagreements about politics are fracturing our relationships. We are dividing ourselves over social policy, partisan loyalties and ideological battles. Our ability to have relationships with others are inhibited, because we cannot stand someone who doesn’t believe the same as us. We are losing the ability to live in community with those that disagree with us. Increasingly, we are looking just as divided as the senate is in D.C.
But why is this happening? Studies show that the trends of ever-increasing polarization, attachment to social media and the susceptibility to fake news are increasing our incivility.
All of that appears to be true, but is it really why we are so uncivil while talking politics? Let me rephrase that. Is that really why many of us lack the ability to treat our neighbors with the dignity and respect they deserve? That’s what this all boils down to.
We don’t actually care about how our words and actions affect others. We are more preoccupied with being right or regurgitating arguments from pundits who get paid to divide us than actually listening to what our neighbor down the hall has to say. Why let partisan loyalties hinder your ability to create relationships inside of your dorm, workplace or neighborhood?
If you’re tired about the uncivil nature of our political discourse, there are several steps that you can take to buck the trend. When discussing politics (or anything for that matter) with a friend, both parties must have mutual respect for each other, an open mind and an acknowledgement that at some level you both could be wrong about what you believe.
These aren’t groundbreaking adages of truth. They’re the common-sense rules of civility. Yet, it is challenging to consistently follow these simple rules. I get it. Politics encompasses everything that we believe about the world: what liberties we should have, how much of our paychecks should get sucked into the insatiable belly of the government and who gets a seat at the table of power. We disagree heavily on all of these issues. There is nothing wrong with disagreement, but there is something wrong with incivility.
Let us recognize that we could be very wrong about any belief we hold. There is no right answer to politics. We’re all just trying to figure out how to live together in a messy, complex and diverse world. If there were right answers, we would have found them by now. So, let’s discuss politics knowing that we don’t have them, and instead try to understand why our neighbors believe the things that they do. Who knows, you might learn something new or—even more scandalously—change your mind.