Some of the press has been reporting that this yearâ€™s election is the dirtiest most divisive in history. Other reporters have put it in historical context: presidential elections in the United States have a strong tradition of being contentious. I suppose there is some truth to both sides.
I am a political news junkie. I enjoy the â€œCrossfireâ€ type discussion/debate show. One of the things I find most intriguing on such shows is watching the hosts, political opponents, as the camera pans out for a commercial break. When the sound is off, and the hosts think they are off camera, they chat and laugh together. I particularly enjoyed watching William Safire and James Carville chum around after a debate once. How could such ideological enemies enjoy each otherâ€™s company?
Because, strictly speaking, they are not ideological enemies. They are political opponents. Within a shared political system, Safire and Carville have many disagreements about the role of government, the rights of individuals, and many other things. But at the same time, they hold in common a trust in the political system that provides the civil space for such disagreement.
I am concerned that not all of our great land is so inclined. In some contexts the hostility seems so strong that I wonder if opponents on some issues do still realize that we share an investment in a system that is built to surround or provide a space for serious disagreement. In other words, if real communication is to occur, somewhere beneath the disagreements, dissension, and arguments, there is a base-level foundation on which opponents stand together. Otherwise, they find themselves screaming past one another, not caring or listening to what the other side says.
Are we screaming past one another? Do you feel your side is being heard by the other? Do those on the other side feel you are listening to them? If we do not listen to one another, and do the hard work of understanding, we will erode the foundation upon which our system works.