Our View: Past time we followed rules of civil discussion
It’s easy to reference one of our nation’s most despicable moments when talking about the sad state of public discourse.
Who hasn’t heard some talking head on cable TV discuss the 1856 caning that happened in the U.S Senate? A representative repeatedly struck a senator with a cane over, not surprisingly, a speech related to slavery.
The country was nearing the Civil War. Tensions boiled. We’ve never experienced a time this contentious, we’re told, so pipe down and suffer through the current day imbroglio.
That’s wrong. We should never accept a coarsening of political discourse because someone can pluck an example of a worse time from history.
Social media has exacerbated current political discussions. Rational, reasoned debate has devolved into posting memes and calling names.
It’s past time to put the cane away and establish a set of rules when talking politics.
First, no physical contact is ever allowed. This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t protest in person, holding signs and demanding government address their grievances. But pies in the face, thrown shoes and blood tossed on opponents is never an acceptable method to communicate.
People who laud such acts when they happen to their opponents, and decry them when they happen to someone they support, show their true colors.
If you want to participate in the debate, you should have to play by the rules.
Attacks on the person — called “ad hominem” — are never acceptable. The world of politics contains plenty of topics to examine, support, reject and attack. There’s no reason to insult someone with a childish name, deride their appearance, the clothes they wear or any number of facets about their person that have no bearing on their ideas.
Character flaws are fair game. Alleging Grover Cleveland had a child out of wedlock reflects on his character — arguably an important component of any politician. Attacking his weight, or the cut of his suit, has no relevance.
Too often vicious diatribes online and shouting over opponents in person dominate our political landscape. Those scenes were evident during the more contentious cannabis-related meetings of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, and during U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s town hall meeting here two years ago, as well as this year.
Few people attend these events for the sole reason of hearing an elected official get shouted down. Attendees want to hear the speaker, regardless of their feelings about that person. Shouting in person or the online equivalent stops real communication from happening, which hampers someone’s ability to form an opinion based on good information.
And that’s against the rules.
The shouts and the insults, the name calling and memes, they only show a lack of understanding about the vital subjects of the day. They bolster the beliefs of those who support that view, turn those away who don’t and do nothing to advance a real debate.
It shows that the person making the comments has no clear thought and no good question to ask.
Instead, using basic courtesy and maintaining intellectual honesty, we must avoid the mistakes of the past and constantly work toward building a healthy political discussion based on facts we mutually agree on.
That last bit — facts on which we all agree — used to be the cardinal rule. It should be again.
The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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