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A case for political discussion

| Wednesday, January 19, 2022

You won’t get very far scrolling through the Twitter accounts of politicians on either side of the political aisle before seeing trigger phrases like “Republicans don’t want …” or “Democrats are trying to …”

It is clear that politics, especially on social media, has become a game of trying to incite heavy emotions and play into party narratives. There is an emphasis on the performance of politics, where the most important thing is stirring your supporters’ opinions instead of focusing on the needs of all people. But what happens when we look further than what is portrayed on Twitter or Fox News? What if we were able to turn the idea of political discussion back into debates about policy areas and legislation? What if we were able to rationally discuss (and disagree) about the best course of action for ending the pandemic, or maintaining American presence at an international level?

I think “political discussions” have become conflated with the hyperpartisan conversations that take place online. Arguments are guided with misinformation and biased sources instead of meaningful debate about the most pressing issues in America. There is a norm of “gotcha” culture — it constantly seems like talks about political topics are initiated with the purpose of walking away from a conversation as a winner instead of aiming to genuinely learn something.

Each of us learns something new every day from our professors, family and friends; this can, and should, include our willingness to adopt a mindset of learning in conversations about politics, just like how we’d learn something from a lecture in class or through grabbing coffee with a friend. With 81 million people voting for Joe Biden and 74 million people voting for Donald Trump in the 2020 election, it is evident that not everyone included in the millions of people that voted in the last presidential election can be strictly divided into “one side or the other,” and we should all keep this in mind when having tough conversations. What I want to highlight is that we have to learn how to be able to talk to each other about politics.

I want to be clear that I am not advocating for tolerating bigotry, homophobia, racism or any kind of hateful or degrading speech. Instead, I believe that when it comes to policy areas and hot, controversial issues, it is far too easy to generalize and assume what “the other side” thinks without ever having an actual conversation about where they’re coming from. If more people were able to talk to each other with the intention of learning something instead of shaming or trying to win, there would not be such a negative connotation around talking about politics.

It is also important to note that there are wider consequences for the current state of hyperpartisanship and misinformation in America. As U.S. ambassador Francis Rooney and professor Matthew Hall highlight in a recent opinion piece in The Hill, “Democracy in the U.S. is on life support, and its recovery will require that serious measures be taken in the next three years. … The answer is to focus on shoring up popular support for our democratic system.”

Most, if not all of us can agree that one of the most pressing issues in politics currently is the preservation of American democracy; this issue is just one example of an area that, no matter your political alignment, you should be able to talk about with someone who may have different views. At some point, we will all have to work with people with whom we disagree. What better time to start than now?

If you also have frustrations about the state of political discourse both in the country and on campus, join BridgeND weekly at 7 p.m. to work towards changing the culture surrounding dialogue, one genuine political discussion at a time.

Rachel Stockford is the President of BridgeND, a nonpartisan political education and discussion group that seeks to bridge the political divide and raise the standard for political discourse at Notre Dame. BridgeND welcomes students of all backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences who want to strengthen their knowledge of current issues or educate others on an issue that is important to them. The club meets weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in the McNeill Room of LaFortune. Want to learn more? Contact [email protected] or @bridge_ND on Twitter and Instagram.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at [email protected] or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

Contact Bridge