A Call for a New Approach to the Crisis of Political Polarization
This is an excerpt from the original post, which can be found in full on The Unum Pundit at https://theunumpundit.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/a-call-for-a-new-approach-to-the-crisis-of-political-polarization/.
America today is a nation beset by deep political divisions. These divisions have been worsening for many years, but starting in 2016 they began to take a more ominous turn. That year witnessed one of the most rancorous presidential elections in our history. Since then, we have all become daily witnesses to a relentless battle royale between the victor of that election and both the opposition party and much of the nation’s media over countless issues, controversies, and – to an unprecedented degree – even basic facts. Last summer we saw the attempted massacre of a group of U.S. senators and representatives from one party by a politically motivated gunman, and a frightening white supremacist rally which sparked public discord and deadly violence. We’ve seen two government shutdowns in just the past few weeks, and major issues like school violence and our broken immigration system continue to go unresolved.
We should stop debating who is to blame, or whether we are more or less divided than Americans of past eras. We must find ways to reduce our current level of political polarization so we can constructively address the pressing challenges we face in an increasingly complex, rapidly changing, and dangerous world. Yet the most commonly proposed solutions fall woefully short. Structural reform to our political system is too difficult. Changing the way Congress operates would be too indirect or counterproductive. Centrism is too paltry. Civility initiatives are too small-scale, simply preach to the choir, and usually self-select the less polarized. The repair of social media is too uncertain. The reform of our partisan/ideological media would infringe on the First Amendment.
So what else can be done?
My answer: We should build new institutions on a nationwide scale to counteract the underlying forces of polarization. The forces pulling us apart are powerful, and we won’t defeat them unless we develop strong opposing forces. We can’t afford to wait for reforms that may come too late or not at all, nor can we rely on the weak vessels of centrism and civility. Starting on Presidents’ Day and continuing over the next several weeks and months, I will be sharing my thoughts about what some of these new institutions might look like.
My first proposal is to encourage a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives to form a Congressional Debate Commission for the purpose of conducting regular, respectful, issue-oriented debates between Democratic and Republican members of Congress before a primetime nationwide audience, similar to the quadrennial presidential debates hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates. If done well these debates would attract a large, politically diverse audience, and would provide partisans and ideologues with sustained exposure to the best arguments, true motivations, and common humanity of those on the other side. Viewers would see for themselves that the other side is not as ignorant, insane, malicious, or stupid as they may have thought, but instead is actually knowledgeable about the issue, has full control of their faculties, does not have horns, and makes some valid points that need to be wrestled with.
Most importantly, the debates would send a powerful message to all Americans, especially our youngest, most impressionable citizens and future leaders, that we value listening to, understanding, and engaging with those who hold different views. They would remind us that we are one nation, not two, and that we have to work out our differences together in order to prosper.
President Washington sacrificed more for the American cause than any of our Founding Fathers, and as he left public life he challenged the citizens of a young republic to cherish an immovable attachment to national union. President Lincoln pleaded with a divided country not to allow passion to break its bonds of affection, and fought to preserve the Union until his last breath. Their words and their example speak to us today as well. By developing new ways to counter the growing divisions in our own time, we can ensure that the best days of the nation they built and preserved lie ahead.