Alexis de Tocqueville, surveyor of the early American experiment and author of Democracy in America, once wrote, “I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.”
Over the past year, political turmoil has become the new normal. Daily disappointments, calamities and controversies have become all too familiar. So familiar in fact, that each successive disaster feels less poignant as we become desensitized to the prevailing repulsiveness of Washington, D.C. What is of greater concern, and what is more difficult to become desensitized to, is the fraying social fabric of the general populace. Because while it may be increasingly easy to brush off the demoralizing headlines that litter our Facebook and Twitter feeds, it is becoming more and more difficult to ignore the blind rage and brutality of the comments sections beneath those headlines.
When President Trump makes awkward, inappropriate jabs at his political opponents during a speech to tens of thousands of Boy Scouts, I roll my eyes. When Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee and Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison says of Arizona senator and Vietnam War hero John McCain, “80,000 a year get a diagnosis of brain cancer. How many won’t be insured after this vote, next vote? I know of one who will be insured,” I can’t help but recoil.
Yet what I find even more disheartening are the daily, would-be pleasant interactions turned sour. The awkward sideways glances, the disapproving whispers. We are no longer judged by our actions or how we treat others, but by our opinions on the role of government in healthcare or how high marginal tax rates should be. There is a visceral, tempestuous angle to our political discourse today and young adults, who are already prone to passionate responses, are at the center of it.
At colleges all around the country, left-wing protestors have rioted against even the most moderate of speakers, denouncing them as “alt-right.” Meanwhile, much of the conservative movement has devolved into devising new ways to rattle and troll “snowflakes.”
We must do better.
If the era of bipartisanship is over, we have a responsibility to ensure that the era of civility does not die with it. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her former colleague, the late Antonin Scalia, spent their twenty-two years together on the bench setting an excellent example for the rest of us. Ginsburg and Scalia, despite their ardent, antithetical, values were “best buddies,” according to Ginsburg. Theirs was an admirable relationship, but Scalia is no longer with us and Ginsburg is eighty-four years old. The time has come for young Americans to take a cue from these two patriots and show enough maturity to tolerate sentiments they do not share.
With constant hysteria from left-wing web sources like the Huffington Post, Salon and Vox, as well as incessant instigation from right-wing rabble rousers such as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Milo Yiannopoulos, it won’t be easy. Indeed, anger, brinksmanship, and charged language have continually proven themselves to be effective tools of the elites, be they in the media or in public office.
Trump’s demagoguery propelled him to the presidency, and progressive Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren’s might just elevate her to the Oval Office next. We must reject this future (no, not a Warren presidency… well, that too, but that’s not the point!). Pundits and politicians will continue to use this perverted appeal to our emotions as long as we let them.
Next time you see a headline that enrages you, or one that fills you with joy by mocking the opposite party, try to temper your response. Read the article and follow it up with your own research. Next time a friend’s Facebook post or political statement makes you want to set yourself on fire, get lunch with them and really listen to what they have to say. You might change your mind or, at the very least, gain a new perspective. Then pick up the check — America could use more decency.