Meaningful civil discourse is within our grasp
By Alex Freeman
Documentary producer and writer Julie Winokur is not happy with how average people talk to each other about politics. She says we’re not very nice in our disagreements, and often fail to understand the other side. I agree. But is the status of public discourse in America really that abysmal?
No, thanks to the work of President Lincoln.
In a union of states at the brink of being torn asunder, Lincoln’s political genius and grit kept the hope of a unified America alive. The American experiment nearly went extinct, but the tenacity of a man and his team who sought a tomorrow together, as a nation, slowly sutured the deepest wound the union had ever endured. Lincoln is memorialized in Washington, D.C., and is to be forever remembered as the man who saved the union.
Seriously. He did that.
So why is the idea of productive civil discourse pitched to us as a pipe dream? We emerged from a war in which brothers from the same family took up arms against one another in support of two conflicting causes. The public has never endured such grave chasms in public opinion as during the Civil War era.
If we can survive and blossom as a nation and society after that, our disagreements on welfare, entitlements, abortion, or any other modern political cause should not be construed as exceptionally daunting.
Lincoln did the heavy lifting for us. He preserved a union of states in which everyone shares the same fate. Now, all we have to do is acknowledge the work for which he’s memorialized. We must actively seek out common ground with our most vociferous political adversaries, cognizant that our frivolous infighting only holds us back as a collective.
We must work against the tide of social and institutional realities unique to American politics to preserve our sense of togetherness. The allure of radical ideology can be immense at times, thanks to Facebook and other media outlets that let us isolate ourselves from opposing viewpoints. Congress can be plagued by polarization because of how we organize our congressional districts and how we choose our neighbors. All of this bears weight on civil discourse—and no one person can change any of it.
Yet our union remains strong. Lincoln’s work endures. Our nation is not a house of cards; it is as strong as the stone standing firmly in Lincoln’s honor. So while our Facebook spats and interactions with hard-nosed opposition, like those Winokur exhibited in her film today, are discouraging, we must not let these things keep us from remembering how far we have come—together.
I implore those who worry that authentic civil discussion is an eternity away to consider the sacrifice and progress made by those who came before us. They did the unthinkable to put a stronger America within our grasp. Now we just have to reach.