Shouting at each other may seem like effective political discourse, but it solves nothing.
In the video posted on Facebook by Alex Jones, a right-wing radio host, a group of young supporters of Donald Trump got into a heated argument with a Black Lives Matter activist. The Trump group began by chanting “T-R-U-M-P, We’re gonna trump Hillary.” The Black Lives Matter activist started by saying “You’re black and supporting a racist? That’s sad, that’s real sad. He’s against you!”
And it just escalated from there.
One camp accused the other of being “a disgrace to America;” the other said that he should “go get a high school education then come back.”
Halfway through, a woman burst in, saying that the Trump supporters “should go get educated” and that it’s “really sad that you’ve [all] been brainwashed.” About two-thirds of the way through the video, another man enters into the scrum, wearing a t-shirt with a Confederate flag on the front. All three parties then commence shouting at and over each other, repeating what they had been screaming for the past ten minutes.
“Malcolm X was a Muslim, he did not die for me.”
“No, YOU’re racist!”
The crowd around them continued to swell, cameras in hand to capture the event in real-time and post on social media.
When the woman and Black Lives Matter and Confederate flag men eventually walked away in a huff, the group of young Trump-ers continued their chant just as before, maybe more impassioned and a little louder than before.
Watching the video again for a second time, I moved past my feeling of disgust and disappointment onto the recognition that, for all the bluster and emotion, nothing productive came from it.
Maybe each group walked away and, while licking their wounds honorably attained through pitched battle with “the enemy,” patted themselves on the back for being a good steward of the cause. They carried their banner forward and arose from battle without converted souls, but at least with the banner completely intact and untouched.
In reality, however, the true casualty of the battle was not the Trump supporters, nor the man with the Confederate flag shirt, nor the woman, nor the Black Lives Matter activist.
The true casualty was our democracy.
Our democracy calls all of us to a true and free discussion on the marketplace of ideas, in which a multitude of well-informed and diverse voices respectfully engage in a transparent discourse in search of the truth.
Our democracy, which legally respects the free speech of all of its citizens and encourages each of us to speak up and get engaged.
Our democracy, which asks us to open ourselves up to listen to others, to interrogate their points of view, and to challenge our own.
Our democracy was not well-represented in the events depicted by the video. There was no true and free discussion of ideas; just loud shouting of talking points. There was no respect for each other; just villainizing of the “other.” There was no listening or self-reflection; just ideological entrenchment.
We do a disservice to our democracy by engaging in “conversations” like these, by not listening to each other and just butting heads until we burn ourselves out.
Far too often, we approach such circumstances as confrontations, as battles, as matches. We need to conquer, through intimidation, name-calling, slandering, belittling. We need to be the last warrior standing on the pitch of political debate. For anything less than that is defeat, and we can’t abide by defeat.
It may sound like a radical proposal, given how often that flavor of combative posturing is reinforced (thank you, Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley, Jr., and the rise of cable news confrontations after 1968), but we should seek to understand. To understand from where each of us is coming; to understand other perspectives than our own; to understand how we reach our own perspectives and why we hold onto them.
Rather than attack, we should ask questions. We should choose compassion rather than aggression. Disagreement and difference is not something we need to overcome; it’s something to embrace.
The more we understand about each other and the reasons behind why we support the candidate we do, or why we differ on gun control or climate policy, or why we see the world differently, the more we will be able to work together and find common ground.
For that is where real action can happen. That is where we can change ourselves and our democracy for the better.