By Loren Monroe
The language surrounding our political discourse is getting increasingly toxic every day. Looking at Twitter or listening to speeches by politicians offers a disturbing window into the angry national mood.
- The Democrat party has shown its true Communist colors.
- The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and antisemitism.
- Democrats Are the Ultimate Grooming Gang.
- DeSantis is now officially a synonym for ‘fascist.’
- The Biden family is a family that has become wealthy by enabling, helping, aiding, and abetting the Chinese.
- What Elon Musk did, removing blue checks, is no different than what the Nazi party did to journalists.
- We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states.
There is no chance we would let our children speak to others with such vitriol. Yet it has become commonplace in our political discourse to launch brutal insults. Many people are unwilling to call out inappropriate language because they fear potential retribution.
The essence of our woes, according to Harvard professor and author Arthur Brooks, is a “culture of contempt.” Increasingly, voters are being told that friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers who vote for the other party or disagree with specific policies should now be considered detestable, unpatriotic, and downright dangerous.
A 2022 CBS News/YouGov survey found that 51 percent of Democrats feel Republicans are not simply political rivals but genuine enemies who pose a real threat to their way of life. Fifty percent of self-identifying Republicans who are conservatives selected “enemy” to describe Democrats, and 50% went with simply “political opposition.”
The polarization along political and social fault lines presents unpredictable challenges for business leaders. Companies must navigate the gaps in policy directions between red states and blue states, where there is increasingly hardened division among governing officials, customers, and employees. Deciding to take a position, or even to stay neutral, is almost guaranteed to result in a backlash from those who disagree on nearly any issue, whether on abortion, gun control, transgender rights, education, vaccinations, immigration, ESG, or public safety.
When one side declares an issue as an “existential threat,” it often proves impossible to have a thoughtful dialogue about the potential solutions. Increasingly, both sides are taking “the ends justify the means” approach to governing, resulting in debate being shut down in pursuit of outright victory.
Twenty-nine states have legislatures featuring a “supermajority,” and 39 state governments feature a “trifecta” – where one party controls the governor’s office and both chambers of the state legislature. One-party control leads to minimal debate on policy differences and expedited passage of legislation.
Leadership is required to build consensus and lower the temperature of our national discourse. Importantly, intergovernmental groups like the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), the National Governors Association (NGA), and the Attorney General Alliance (AGA) are designed to convene bipartisan gatherings where elected officials from different parties can work in cooperation to share ideas, build relationships find policy consensus.
Utah Governor Spencer Cox, the next chair of the National Governors Association, plans to focus his chairman’s initiative on “disagreeing better.” Commenting on the divide between red and blue states, Governor Cox recently tweeted, “We don’t need a divorce, we need marriage counseling. And we need elected leaders that don’t profit by tearing us apart. We can disagree without hate. Healthy conflict was critical to our nation’s founding and survival.”
Governor Cox intends to highlight how leaders get things done while engaging in healthy conflict. His first effort will be around immigration and the bipartisan agreement among governors about the need to grow the workforce. By working together to produce legislative proposals, Governor Cox aims to give bipartisan cover to Congress to finally act. As part of his initiative, Governor Cox will encourage members of different political parties to tape Public Service Announcements and write op-eds about the critical importance of working together to address challenges. The template will be the television advertisement that Governor Cox and his Democratic opponent taped during the 2020 campaign for governor.
Breaking down partisan impulses will require more than elected officials simply changing their tone. Arguably, politicians are responding to demands from voters to clearly state where they stand and how far they will go to defeat the opposition. The longer-term solution relies on building an environment that promotes civil discourse and encourages compromise.
Braver Angels is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization working to unite red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America, “Our work is about building civic trust in the USA. It is about healing the wounds between the left and right. We welcome opportunities to engage with those with whom we disagree. We look for common ground where it exists, and if possible, find ways to work together.”
A critical piece of the solution will be educating our nation’s future leaders on working toward consensus and not seeing compromise as a failure. As the founding Partner of BGR Group and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour tells students and clients alike: “Purity in politics is the enemy of victory.” Governor Barbour often quotes his mentor, President Ronald Reagan, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.”
Braver Angels, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), and BridgeUSA have developed a program to teach students from colleges and universities to respect ideological diversity, foster civil discourse on college campuses, and cultivate student and faculty leaders. They prepare students to express their views, frame persuasive arguments, listen deeply, and engage respectfully with each other around issues that are typically difficult and divisive.
Another admirable group working to foster civil discourse is the Civility Leadership Institute (CLI) based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Started by General Wesley Clark, CLI convenes diverse groups of leaders nationwide for a year of training, learning, and workshops. Participants tackle complex topics impacting the nation with the goal of achieving common ground and reducing partisan division and gridlock.
America’s most successful political leaders have always shared a key ingredient—an optimistic vision for our country’s future. The well-being of our nation relies on each of us listening to those we disagree with and heeding the advice of President John F. Kennedy, who often reminded Americans that civility is not a sign of weakness: “Let us not emphasize all on which we differ but all we have in common. Let us consider not what we fear separately but what we share together.”