At Balloon Juice, long-time Republican John Cole writes:
In short, it really sucks looking around at the wreckage that is my party and realizing that the only decent thing to do is to pull the plug on them (or help). I am not really having any fun attacking my old friends- but I don’t know how else to respond when people call decent men like Jim Webb a pervert for no other reason than to win an election. I don’t know how to deal with people who think savaging a man with Parkinson’s for electoral gain is appropriate election-year discourse. I don’t know how to react to people who think that calling anyone who disagrees with them on Iraq a “terrorist-enabler” than to swing back. I don’t know how to react to people who think that media reports of party hacks in the administration overruling scientists on issues like global warming, endangered species, intelligent design, prescription drugs, etc., are signs of… liberal media bias.
And it makes me mad. I still think of myself as a Republican- but I think the whole party has been hijacked by frauds and religionists and crooks and liars and corporate shills, and it frustrates me to no end to see my former friends enabling them, and I wonder ‘Why can’t they see what I see?”
There’s more – it’s worth reading the whole thing. John Cole is a Republican I have a lot of respect for. It’s hard to name many others.
I’ve been trying for years now to approach political disagreement with respect for my opponents; to remember that I might be wrong, and to treat even those I disagree with as inherently deserving of decent treatment from me. Lately I’ve been losing that conviction. The Republicans are the party that tries to win elections by bashing gays, and by trying to lower black voter turnout; they are the party that believes that the President should have the right to throw people in prison indefinitely and have them tortured without representation, trial or oversight; they are the party that supports censoring inconvenient scientific findings.
I can’t respect any of that. And I have a lot of trouble respecting anyone – even people I genuinely like and consider friends – who votes for the current Republican party.
So where does that leave me? Can I really justify my participation in Creative Destruction, which is (as I understood it) predicated on the idea of right-wingers and left-wingers disagreeing in a forum where mutual respect is practiced? On the other hand, I still see no benefit to the kind of discourse that is common in the blogosphere; treating other people like crap, calling people who disagree “wingnuts” or whatnot, etc.. I agree with most of the left-wingers I read on the substantive issues, but I don’t like the arrogance, the spitefullness, and the contempt. (Most right-wing bloggers exhibit these same traits, too.)
I think that kindness and respect is better than being hurtful. I think a style of discourse based in hatred and power-over is supportive of everything I hate, and that trying to treat everyone decently is profoundly more radical than othering and cruelty. I don’t think that acting like arrogant jerks with no regard for anyone but our own group actually creates change for the better in any way: it doesn’t reduce racism, it doesn’t reduce inequality, it doesn’t fight sexism, it doesn’t do anything but support bullying and power-over relationships.
So I think it’s better to treat people we disagree with, with kindness and respect, when we can. But I’m not feeling much respect, lately. I’m faking it.
And I think it’s worth faking it; I think it would be a better world if everyone faked respect for other people, even when they’re not feeling it. But I have a lot more doubts about that than I did a year or two ago.
I’m honestly distressed by the rule changes in Congress over the past six years; rule changes that are about reducing oversight on the executive, and about cutting Democrats out of meaningful discourse entirely. This is not how American government was designed to work. It is not how any previous congress in living memory, Republican or Democrat, has acted. And it shows, I think, a profound lack of commitment to the ideals of representative government, of checks and balances, and of intellectual humility.
There’s an image of a donut of discourse. Inside the donut hole are the principles that everyone in the society who is at all respected, agrees on: A constitutional democracy is better than a dictatorship, racism is bad, cheating on elections is wrong, etc.. The donut itself is contested areas; issues that people can disagree with and still be seen as reasonable, rational, and deserving of respect. In this area we find the controversies – abortion, affirmative action, socialized medicine, war on Iraq, etc.. Finally, there’s the areas outside of the donut: 9/11 was a plot orchestrated by Jews and the Bush administration, Nazism is good, and so on.
I’m beginning to think that my picture of the donut looks radically different than the conservative picture of the donut. And if that’s so, is there really much basis for discussion?