Attack Ideas, Not People

VOICES

COMPROMISE - Antonin Scalia had the right of it when asked about his friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he responded: “I attack ideas, I don’t attack people.” 

To resolve the issues in this country that are both multiplying and becoming increasingly hostile, people need to find common ground. And that cannot be achieved through personal attacks. 

Instead of emulating the hyper-partisanship so prevalent in the House of Representatives, Americans should be asking people who hold different views “why” and really listen so they can walk a while in the other person’s shoes. 

We need to work towards incremental reform and transition rather than the upheaval of revolution. We need to find ways to address the issues without ascribing malicious intent to those who voice different opinions. 

Given that it’s impossible to understand the present without an appreciation of the past, we need education to focus on interpretation and application of facts, rather than rote memorization; increased attention to civic duty and community obligations; and reopening robust discussion of all points of view, with an emphasis on civility not censorship. 

As George W. Bush said in his first inaugural address, “Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment; it is a determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.” 

Too often the anonymity afforded by social media unfetters people’s baser emotions and leads to vitriolic language, angry exchanges, outright rudeness, and slanderous assertions. 

The end, by politicians, parties or individuals, does not justify the means, especially when they rend the social contract. And those elected by the people must reflect the best in the people, be both their advocates and role models. 

Madison probably put it best: “...a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior.” 

For effective representation, officials must consider all points of view – which is increasingly challenging in today’s pluralistic society. 

For a gentler, more thoughtful America, perhaps we should be looking at a multi-party approach to government? Even though it has rarely been other than a blip in American politics, there is nothing in the Constitution to prohibit a third, a fourth, or a fifth party.

Nothing, that is, other than the money and power that the current national parties would have to cede.  

A multi-party system would give people more options, a selection of greys instead of black and white, and avoid the imbalances inherent in the Electoral College and Senate. 

We need to wipe away the stain of Trumpian narcissistic nihilism and encourage loyal opposition that would contest specific policies but hold firm to the ideals on which the United States was founded – freedom of speech and free association within the existing system. 

Working to make it better for all, not fomenting disruption by vigilantism or attempts to overthrow this republican experiment in democracy built over the almost 250 years that have benefited from Americans’ capacity and courage for change. 

We should not ban any form of speech, unless it calls for outright mayhem, putting lives and property in imminent danger. 

The caveat in welcoming all speech, is that the speaker should welcome others equal opportunity to respectfully offer opposing viewpoints. 

In fact, not allowing politically incorrect views or those that may discomfort some does us all a disservice since it restricts the number and range of views and reduces the variety of options available to assess situations and make the best decisions. Without thicker skins, people lose opportunities to learn and grow. 

In our public places, on campuses and in our houses of worship, we should welcome purveyors of other ideas. Even if we may disagree, this will serve to clarify and strengthen our own arguments and reinforce a basis for working together to achieve shared goal. 

Yes, change is necessary. But to be effective, civil disobedience must take the high road and always be civil. Politeness can be a more powerful weapon than Molotov cocktails. 

Again turning to George W. Bush in his 2005 inaugural address: 

“In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character, on integrity and tolerance toward others and the rule of conscience in our own lives. Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. 

“That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people. 

“Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before, ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever.” 

Listening, really listening, is a sign of respect for the individual even if you disagree with their views. 

As you can see from this article, I am not above including the best of what those who I oppose in principle have to say. 

John Maynard Keynes “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” 

So must we all. 

Let’s step away from misstatements (often erroneously called alternate facts) and opinions to deal in the real world. 

Compromise is not giving up; it’s taking the high road and charting a way forward by finding common ground.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)