The Erosion of America’s Civil Discourse

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Divisive politics has long been a growing hindrance in American civil discourse and, not surprisingly, has recently seen a dramatic increase with the introduction of social media and 24/7 news cycle in the 21st century. This is mostly due to the political activist culture inculcating American society. This culture states that you must be a national figure working to forward a certain agenda every single day, while disregarding all additional information that may sway one’s opinion. Of course, the population should be a vigilant and active participant in the governing process. We must speak with one another in extreme detail about societal issues, thoroughly dig to find the root cause of each others problems, and devise possible solutions that are determined to be efficient and proper. However, divisive moral warfare has nearly consumed our continuous stream of political news due to this non-stop activist lifestyle.

For example, a story that should focus on a mental illness, such as gender dysphoria, is manipulated into a political device focused on attacking the moral character of those proposing solutions. When someone believes funding for Planned Parenthood should be cut in order to better spend taxpayer dollars, accusations like, “You must hate women” and “You’re sexist” start to fly off the shelves. If you don’t automatically agree with undefined “common sense” gun laws, you don’t care about the lives of mass shooting victims. You are accosted as a racist because you suggest that America should enforce its immigration laws. All of these character attacks divide society into an argument of us vs. them, which is immensely amplified when news media specialize in emotional reactions rather than deciphering what’s true and what’s false.

I recently had a short online discussion with my roommate. It focused on the Parkland school shooting in Florida — discussing possible future preventions. We spoke about the FBI’s failure to act in the situation, background check effectiveness, the removal of the Obama-era edict that unconstitutionally gave the Social Security Administration the power to rescind someone’s Second Amendment right, and other related issues.

We were having a civil discourse with only a few factual falsities until he suggested that I was trying to convince him that the right to bear arms is of more importance than someone’s right to life. I was surprised, to say the least. I know my roommate is a nice guy with good intentions. I thought to myself, what could have made him suddenly attribute such malevolence upon his roommate?

We both undoubtedly can agree that life is a precious unalienable right that needs to be ardently protected. Why would someone who knows me so well throw out a morally reprehensible attribution of evil like that? After I made sure to point out it’s absurdity, this extremely disgusting accusation ended our discussion.

A few days later, I sat down to watch the CNN Parkland Town Hall— hoping to see a civil discussion about gun laws, mental illness, and possible mass shooting preventative measures. Instead, I watched a bevy of personal attacks be fired at Senator Marco Rubio— cheered on by the massive crowd surrounding the speakers. Fred Guttenburg, a father who lost his daughter in the Parkland shooting, told Rubio, “I want to like you. Here’s the problem… Your comments this week and those of our President have been pathetically weak.” Guttenburg continued, “Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in the school this week.” I completely understand and sympathies with this father’s emotional reaction. However, the proposition that Rubio must agree with a victim of a tragedy on policy, or else he’s impossible to “like,” is asinine. The inference here is that Rubio is a bad person, the enemy or even evil itself—solely because he believes the rifle used in the shooting was not the main factor that initialized the shooting.

Cameron Kasky, a student who survived the shooting, was placed on stage to ask a question of Rubio but instead stated, “It’s hard to look at you and not look down the barrel of an AR-15 and not look at Nikolas Cruz.” An accusation like this immediately ends the possibility of having a civil discussion. It attributes malevolence with no supporting evidence. One cannot have a civil discussion with someone who believes you are the embodiment of the devil.

When someone on national television suggests that a politician was bought and paid for using NRA blood money, the news anchor has a responsibility to discuss said allegation and dig to find the truth. In current political culture, taking such action is seen to be too malicious when the allegations come from a shooting victim, an alleged rape victim, a particular minority, or someone simply on their own side. This refusal to debate against one’s own political orientation reinforces the us vs. them mentality— furthering the country’s divide.

Forcing the opposition to automatically agree or be pilloried for thinking differently—a fascistic tactic—has never and will never produce a civil discourse, historically evident in the Third Reich’s demise. Sadly, in the Twitter era of instant gratification, society has forgotten how to dive deeply into imperative philosophical discussions— the nature of good balancing evil or liberty preventing tyrannical control— that can offer solace in most social issues. Instead, we focus on monetizing the emotional reactions to natural chaos and throwout the ability to discuss possible preventative measures that follow in the footsteps of natural chaos.

To facilitate a productive conversation on such issues, the participating parties must believe that their opposition has the same goal— at the very least, good intent— before getting into the details of the issue at hand. Modern news media, if you could call it news, forgoes this and, in turn, refuses to give the dissenting opinion the benefit of the doubt. Prioritization of ratings have divided the market in such a way that media outlets only cater to a specific audience that will dedicate their day to watching the outlet’s particular programs, instead of listening to and learning from a differing viewpoints. This becomes an endless cycle of tribalism in which the viewers applaud the outlet for agreeing with their own opinion, the outlet structures their programing to fit the views said individuals, and the cycle continues to repeat until the population is at each other’s throats. Ending this cycle requires a meaningful effort to tone down the toxic rhetoric and re-instill faith in each other.

We all think we have the cure to our chaotic world when we haven’t sat down to genuinely discuss why society is the way it is, what makes for a morally good people and why America’s founding principles, such as our God-given right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” were established. Until we start to understand the basic underpinnings of American society through civil discourse, tension within the country will continue to rise and lead to further division.

Jeffrey Tomblin (@JeffreyTomblin) is the Digital Media Director of Lone Conservative. He’s an alumnus of the University of Georgia, where he practiced media theory, research, planning, and production.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Jeff Tomblin

University of Georgia

Jeffrey Tomblin (@JeffreyTomblin) is the Digital Media Director of Lone Conservative. He’s an alumnus of the University of Georgia, where he practiced media theory, research, planning, and production.

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