Democracy Cannot Exist Without a Willingness to Find Common Ground

PictureThe 2016 election did more than just give us Trump. It unveiled and exposed deep rifts in both of America’s mainstream political parties.

But this is not entirely unexpected. With each passing generation, there is this necessary tug-of-war between the old and new; that constant dialectic of Democracy. It’s an internal dialogue of the struggle and identity a People; a Nation longing to be true to itself as it changes from one generation to the next.

What are we? What is America? What should America stand for? What should we stand for? What do we stand for? Who is WE?

These burning questions drive discourse, whether civil or uncivil; constructive or destructive.

A certain strain of discourse has arisen once again. It is certainly not new to American politics. Not entirely bad, but not entirely good, either. I suppose it all depends given the time and the circumstances. As the saying goes, “There is a season for everything.”

There is a time for sitting across the table from someone ideologically opposed to you and there is a time to stand and fight for what you believe in.

But perhaps in this day and age we are all too willing to advance past dialogue to the point of collective demagoguery; made easier by tools that strip us of social cues and interaction.

We rush to take our sides and draw lines in the sand before we even fully realize whether what is approaching is an army pining after war or a delegation suing for peace.

Can a Democracy exist if a People are in a perpetual state of ideological civil war?

I think the answer is no.

This is not to say that we should not stand strongly for what is right and against what is wrong. I am merely suggesting that a winner-takes-all approach or scorched earth policy may not be entirely democratic.

For instance, when Maine passed a citizen’s initiative to legalize same-sex marriage, equality proponents went beyond arguing simply that it was the right thing to do; they searched for a message and compelling reason why Mainers would be more open and accepting of gay marriage.

The approach changed from that of “right and wrong” to one that revealed to Mainers that their sons and daughters, relatives, neighbors, and friends are LGBTQ and only want to live their lives equal and free.

Gay marriage went from being an abstract concept of a constitutional right to something that was personal for the many Mainers who approved the measure. It became real to them. Someone close was hurt by discrimination and barred from liberties enjoyed by the rest of society. And, thus, it made complete and common sense that, yes, this was the right thing to do.

Winning hearts and minds is far more representative of Democracy than winning at all costs.

And that is why I believe that Democracy cannot exist without the willingness to find common ground.

Simply doing things to be right does not garner the consensus on which democracies are built; this touches upon the idea of the consent of the governed.

Doing things because they are right in a way that helps those of opposing viewpoints to appreciate the political and social morality of a certain course of action or policy is far more effective than simply beating people over the head.

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