Child's Play, The Citizen, April 2018 On Peaceful Discourse

Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.

About two years ago I wrote a satirical and intentionally provocative political piece to test a theory I have that we have difficulty addressing our differences with peaceful rhetoric.  I got lots of comments from readers and almost all of them could be classified in one of two groups.  On the one hand were people who liked my column because they agreed with what I said.  It was nice getting positive feedback, but there was little discussion of facts. 

On the other hand were people who were furious with me.  They didn't like my article because they disagreed with me.  Like the first group, they provided no evidence that I was wrong.  Most of their arguments came down to name calling, questions about my intelligence, or "data" that they had gleaned from their partisan news sources - again, data with little basis in fact.

I believe little of anything someone with a political agenda says.  I expect politicians, pundits, and biased news outlets to distort the truth, manipulate statistics, and conveniently ignore information that doesn't fit their agendas.  They do this for political gain and it has been a part of U.S. politics since our inception.  But I would like to see something better from the rest of us. 

Every day I peruse political news from media outlets across the spectrum.  I want to know the truth - not just what I agree with.  The varied perspectives on exactly the same events is astonishing and I recognize political talking points when I hear them.

Passionate discourse, especially about politics, is nothing new.  What appears to be new, however, is how quickly both parties drift into name calling rather than actually debating a topic.  Political debate has been replaced with attempts to silence the opposition through slander and unfounded accusations.

For example, it appears that free speech only applies if it is a politically correct opinion.  If it is not, the speaker is a racist, homophobe, or sexist.  And it seems to be acceptable to call certain people hateful, racists, or idiots, as long as it is aimed at the "right" people.

Imagine any late night comedian saying this.  "I'm so tired of an idiot in the white house."  [Pause for laughter and applause.]  Then, "Yeah, I'm glad those eight years of Obama are over."  [A stunned and confused audience follows with boos.]

Neither Obama nor Trump is an idiot, but it is acceptable to call one an idiot, but hate speech or racism if directed at the other. 

Just a couple of weeks ago, a daytime talking head suggested that Vice President Pence was "mentally ill" because he said God talked to him.  Believing your deity talks to you isn't a mental illness and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) specifically says so. 

Some years ago, a good friend told me she didn't feel like she could admit she voted for Bill Clinton because she felt like people equated that with "sinful" behavior.  That was a sad commentary, but nothing much has changed.  Just see what happens if you publically support Trump today.

One of my students asked me most sincerely a few months ago how any intelligent person could ever vote for Trump.  He went on to regurgitate unfounded accusations that had been made against the president and he believed what he had heard. 

Each end of the political continuum consistently presents an all or nothing proposition in their arguments.  For example, nobody denies racism exists and some who support Trump may be racist, but Trump supporters are not automatically racist by default.  It is possible to agree with some, but not all of any leader's thoughts or policies and it is possible to simply disagree with the political agenda of the other party.

Likewise, while there certainly may be Democrats who pander to the Latino population just for votes, there are very good men and women in the party who deeply care about the so-called Dreamers and others who want to make the U.S. their home.  Just because one disagrees with their policy doesn't make them evil.   

My favorite comment on that article two years ago was "He never said that" referring to a statement I attributed to a politician.  Well, um, yes he did and you would have known that if you researched.  That is why I quoted him.  Saying what you wish was so doesn't make it so.  Being passionate about your position is understandable and even desirable, but rhetoric that basically comes down to "Oh, yeah!" doesn't get us anywhere.  We are smarter than that.



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