A resolution to converse civilly
This year, I’m making a different type of resolution, and I hope my fellow Americans will join me in it. It’s less about the steps I have to take for a better life and more about the changes we all need to make for a better society.
I resolve to be more careful about what I say and write so as not to contribute to what has become a totally dysfunctional American dialogue. We’ve forgotten how to talk to one another, discuss politics and argue with civility. Too often, we talk over each other, jump to conclusions, ascribe motives, take ourselves too seriously, impugn the integrity of others, practice situational ethics and apply double standards. We also steer clear of viewpoints we disagree with and surround ourselves with like minds — all to avoid confronting the possibility that we could actually be wrong about something.
I think about the gentleman who told me that he was going to stop reading my column because we had begun to disagree too often. Or the one who — in response to a recent column about how California Democrats are attacking President-elect Donald Trump for threatening to do what President Barack Obama has already done — declared me a “Trump apologist.” Or the reader who — apparently under the impression that columnists have a limited reservoir of barbs — wrote, in a letter to the editor, that I should “save” my criticism (of Hillary Clinton) because I was going to need it (for Donald Trump). Or the one who bragged about how he started to read one of my columns but stopped after the first jab at folks like him, and then questioned whether I believed what I’d written or whether this was just my “shtick for grabbing eyeballs.”
During the election, there were readers who accused me of supporting Clinton every time I criticized Trump, and others who said I supported Trump whenever I bashed Clinton. There were the usual “100-percenters” who demanded total agreement on all issues and, when they didn’t get it, went on the attack. And, of course, who could forget the absolutists who had no use for nuance? They couldn’t admit their candidate did anything wrong, even when it was obvious that they had.
Why can’t Democrats simply acknowledge that — whether or not the Russian hack significantly influenced the election — Clinton was the worst and weakest candidate they could have possibly nominated? Why can’t Republicans just admit that Trump won the election, in large part, by exploiting people’s fears of immigrants, Muslims, China and U.S.-born “Mexican” judges?
Even in an unusual election year full of surprises with a nearly unpredictable ending, many Americans in both political parties never wavered in their conviction that they were good and anyone who disagreed with them was bad.
Lastly, a dishonest and partisan media bear much of the blame for creating our communication crisis. After years of thinking that it was the job of journalists to be impartial observers, we learned in this election that if one party’s nominee is so unconventional as to be considered unsafe, it’s permissible for them to jump into the arena and try to defeat that candidate. We also learned that the practice of reporters agreeing to off-the-record discussions with Democrats is perfectly fine, but doing so with Republicans suggests a “coziness” that is unacceptable. And thanks to WikiLeaks, we learned that the Clinton campaign and national reporters had a symbiotic relationship where journalists got access and campaign staffers used the journalists to plant stories that were friendly to the Democratic candidate.
Many of these shenanigans backfired. And in the end, ironically, some of the loudest voices in the media wound up being ignored by a public that no longer believed what they had to say. The media overplayed their hand and wound up with less influence than they had before Trump declared his candidacy.
What a terrible mess Americans have created. The ability to communicate is a gift, and we’ve not taken very good care of it. We’ve been too self-centered, too trapped in our own bubble and too closed-off to other opinions. We’re so eager to express ourselves, and we’re yelling so loudly, that we have no idea what anyone else is saying. What’s worse, many of us don’t seem to care.
Let’s make 2017 the year when we reverse course and start fixing America’s broken conversation.