Our View: We need thoughtful, rational debate in our politics
Members of the debate team, arguing their respective cases, emphasized they didn’t necessarily believe what they said.
It was an exercise, a learning experience, a method of flexing intellectual muscle in a controlled environment with precise, meticulous rules.
If only these rules applied to the nation as a whole.
Our community, state and country are dealing with a series of issues we can’t rationally discuss. Our society has lost whatever rules we once had to hold proper discourse, whether it’s about abortion, vaccinations or 5G technology.
We take complex issues, sometimes without any facts, and force them into black-and-white terms. Some media exacerbate this and amplify the us-versus-them while politicians feed off the rancor and twist the topics into wedge issues.
Instead of advancing the debate, we’re sharing memes online and trading insults with strangers. People on both sides of the aisle witness the same event before grabbing their keyboards and pronouncing their respective side the winner.
The end result is a lack of real conversation, and a void of anyone really listening.
We could use some rules, or at least guidelines, to frame this debate.
Problem is: We don’t have any good role models to follow when it comes to real discourse. Not our politicians, not the talking heads on TV, not anyone to look toward for guidance on the national stage.
So let’s examine some basic tenets used by a high school debate team:
Our foundation must be a shared set of facts upon which we base our arguments. Our minds must remain open, and not discard an argument before we’ve heard any facts about it. We should stop viewing a change of mind as weakness, and instead embrace it as a sign of an open mind. Our mental reflex should never immediately jerk to the belief that something can’t be our fault.
And, most importantly, we must avoid a system of absolutes, working toward compromise in our government and community.
The cannabis conversation that occurred over the past decade in this county is a good example. What began as us-versus-them, escalating in January 2016 when the Nevada County Board of Supervisors flexed its muscle with a total outdoor grow ban, slowly evolved into a discussion that grew from mutual respect. It ended this month in the passage of a new grow ordinance. No one is completely happy with it, but everyone got something they liked.
This close-to-home example is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate on the national level — but we sure can try.
You may not like your supervisor, but they’re close enough that you can speak to him or her in person. You can weigh and measure them, determining their worth as a leader.
We must do the same for state and national leaders. You might not be able to talk to someone running for the U.S. House of Representatives in person, but you can research their political beliefs and weigh them against their rhetoric. You can measure an incumbent who wants reelection by examining his or her votes.
We can elect leaders who will work with each other, not promote divisiveness. Let’s have our government focus on governing, not winning online spats that are forgotten in the next news cycle.
Let’s enjoy genuine laughter at a joke, not turn it into fodder for the online hate machine.
Real progress happens when we set aside petty politics and work toward a common goal, using a shared set of facts to achieve our goals.
You might disagree or have a better idea on how to fix our broken national discourse.
Why don’t we debate it?
Our View is 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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