The recent successes of identity driven political campaigns, and their strategic use of divisive rhetoric has exacerbated an already overly hostile debate space in the United States. Identity politics differ from ideological versions in the ways citizens group themselves. Identity based political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific group at the expense of another. Examples of this could be the organization of the conservative bloc around pro-life legislation or liberals with same sex marriage. Emotions around these types of topics run deep and when they become primary political drivers our ability to have civil discourse suffers.
Why Has This Happened?
In 1968, nearly 80% of Americans* watched nightly broadcast news. At that point in time, these networks were sharing information that aimed to appear as unbiased as possible* so as not to alienate any viewers. Over time though, cable news networks that cater only to smaller slices of the opinion spectrum began to crop up, which created a phenomenon of intensified media bias. Partisan Internet news outlets have only added to this increase and have corralled citizens into separate corners of conversation.
As a result, we tend to witness groups of thinkers who typically only engage in debates with one another, and who view outside opinions as wrong or antagonistic. This is particularly true within the political system itself, a space in which the common practice of gerrymandering determines how the congressional districts are mapped out. In fact, 90% of these districts are so rigged that the winning political party has already been decided before votes are even cast. These once-vibrant settings for debate and discussion are now just cocoons that insulate the different parties from one another.
How Does D&R Plan to Change This?
It is because of this current state of debate that the Dignity & Respect Campaign has developed an alternative type of conversation space. We call this unique initiative Viewpoints – and it will differ from the current debate panels and news shows because our approach incorporates real people into the discussion, rather than figureheads. We want to showcase the similarities between our participants, in addition to their differences, so you – our readers – can see firsthand that everyone has precisely the same goal: to make a difference. Instead of viewing those with opposing opinions as enemies to be beaten or converted, we should view them as potential collaborators.
We will begin our Viewpoints series with a month-long conversation about the state of conversation. We will discuss how we can start to appreciate the diversity of thought in our nation, and hopefully discuss ways to increase respect for one another in our interactions. Once dignity and respect are incorporated into debate, we will have the ability to find merit in the opinions of others. We can begin building solutions to the many complex issues we face by combining ideas from all schools of thought.
The climate of discussion in America does not need to persist in its current partisan and harmful manner. Your neighbor is not your enemy if he or she does not agree with you, and we should not overlook the good intentions behind every opinion. Remember, we are all in this together.
*Taken from the film: Best of Enemies. Dir. Morgan Neville and Robert Gordan. Magnolia Pictures, 2015. DVD.