We live in what has been called the “Hell No” Culture. Public discourse becomes more tribal than rational. Compromise is deplored, and only winning is acceptable — not just winning but humiliating and destroying any opposition. Consider three current issues.
Mass murders arouse unbearable anger and grief. More restricted gun ownership — age thresholds, background checks, banning assault weapons, etc. — are demanded for a nation badly trailing every other industrial nation in gun availability and gun violence. But what of the hundreds of millions of weapons already circulating? Handguns kill far more. Some argue guns are not the problem; mentally ill shooters and defenseless citizens are.
Abortion debates are similarly intense. Some regard it as a woman controlling her own body, her own physical, emotional and mental well-being. But when does life begin, and should abortion become another means of birth control? Others stress the sanctity of life from gestation and view it absolutely as murder if any embryo is deliberately terminated — no exceptions, even for rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s life.
Then comes immigration. This nation of immigrants has always struggled to accommodate those from disparate nations, races, cultures and religions. That struggle continues as thousands flock daily to our southern border.
So are we doomed by intractable, unsolvable problems such as these? Some suggestions:
Apply rational analysis and the lessons of history. It is neither accident nor coincidence that most people today are healthier, richer and longer-lived than ever. Scientific methods have brought remarkable advances while human affairs have benefitted from understanding history and insistence on precedents. Simplistic arguments rooted in ideology and emotion succumb to rational rebuttals as in each of the problems above.
Utilize professional expertise and experience. The “experts” are not always right, and not everyone who claims expert knowledge has it. But “credentials” and an objective record of experience and accomplishment are more reliable than unsubstantiated, undocumented partisan allegations. Unfortunately, public trust in science and experience has declined substantially in these times.
Abjure personal invective and vituperation. Increasingly, partisans accuse each other not just of misunderstandings or errors but of being “dictators,” “right wingers,” “murderers” or worse. Vituperative writers profess outrage over what the president or other politicians are trying to do, hysterically accusing them of “lying,” “cheating,” “stealing elections,” “suppressing freedom,” “killing babies” (or mothers) or other “treasonous” behavior.
Appreciate compromise. Never easy but usually critical to positive outcomes.
Respect democratic politics. The prime goal of ambitious politicians is re-election. Human politicians pursue selfish goals. Factions fail to unite in the public interest. Yet when the alternative is authoritarian control and violence, the messy game of politics with all its frustrations remains, as Aristotle saw it, the master science behind all other human activities.
Remember the long game. Democratic political disputes are almost never permanently resolved. In politics, tomorrow always comes.