COMMENTARY: Since Nov. 8, America has witnessed a rather remarkable uptick in the tenor and tone of political debate. This has been evident both on the left and on the right. Exaggerated claims are made, Godwin’s law has apparently been repealed, and “creative” misspellings abound.
None of this is new in political discourse, of course; from Adams to Lincoln, Cleveland to Goldwater, elections have been filled with rancor. What is new is that the rancor has continued well after the election, and now after the inauguration of a new president. If the divide seemed large before, it now seems insurmountable.
Is there a solution? Yes, but there are many reading this who won’t agree.
Speaking truth to power need not entail the use of extreme language. Far too often it leads not to dialogue, but simply more rhetoric.
To use the most common example, it does not lead to a softening of views to refer to the alt-right as Nazis. First and foremost, it’s historically inaccurate. Genocide is not their final solution, and not even the most radical among them would advocate for it.
Nor should any human be labeled based on simply who they are. Muslims are not ragheads, nor are those without documents “illegals.” The first demeans a practice of faith, the second isn’t even grammatically correct — illegal is an adjective, not a noun.
Those are just some examples. There are dozens of others in just about any internet comment section you read these days. The question is, why does it matter? Because both left and right need to learn to take the long view — the preservation of our country and our freedoms. If we continue to self-righteously proclaim that only one side has the truth, and feel free to demonize and demean the other, we lose our basic freedom, our right to free speech.
At this point people are now typing comments saying either that I’m contradicting myself or, at worse, I’m a PC hypocrite. Hear me out.
The purpose of free speech is to be heard, and in being heard to give weight and value to our point of view. Extreme language defeats this purpose. Instead of giving weight to our words it ensures that they will be ignored. We understand this in our day-to-day interactions with family and friends. It applies as well in the larger world of politics, or for that matter other controversial topics.
In the end, it really does boil down to the old cliché: treat others as you would be treated. Think about how your comment would feel if someone said it to you. Dig out the old conflict resolution rules, use “I” instead of “you,” don’t use “always” or “never” (hardly anyone does something all the time, or never does something).
Our words matter, and as we try to find our way though the current rancor they matter even more.
Claudia Anderson, of Farmington, is a past Democratic Party county officer and member of the party’s state central committee. She has been active in several political campaigns. Today she follows politics avidly as a concerned citizen. She has been proudly voting since 1972.