Finding Respect in a World of Disagreement

By: Julia Gutsch

“Respect find out what it means to me.” Those song lyrics made popular by Aretha Franklin relate much more to modern American politics than one might initially accept. Across the partisan divide, from politicians to lobbyists to journalists and many more, respect, as a core value, can help shape success in achieving an end goal. Respect is something that, if truly used in the right way, can have extraordinary impacts. Most relevant to the increasingly controversial and divided American government though, the concept must be narrowed in on to include respecting the opinions of both those of similar or different beliefs to create an active political climate rich in bipartisan knowledge and comprehensive understandings of the issues facing our nation today. Respect, leading to active listening has the potential to lay the foundation for our newly sworn-in Congress to make accomplishments that reflect the American constituency, fulfilling the job they were elected to complete.


This idea may sound extremely idealistic, so it is important to consider the areas of government where respect may be virtually impossible in the next two years. This is rooted in the fundamental idea that it is difficult for someone to give respect to a person they do not feel they are receiving similar respect from. The most obvious example of this is the actions and comments made by President Trump that many citizens and members of Congress find highly insulting and disrespectful. The New York Times compiled 551 examples of times that President Trump insulted people and places on Twitter, only beginning to introduce his reach of disrespect, as it does not even take into account verbal comments. In particular, many members of Congress, including Representative Jim McGovern, feel that the government shutdown shows a lack of respect from the President. This is not only to the workers who are unable to work during the shutdown but also to Congress, as they are being “blackmailed” to accept what the President wants in terms of “building the wall.” Although I acknowledge the extreme difficulty behind it, true progress can only be made once Congress and the President begin to show respect to one another and understand what each side wants out of “building the wall” and why they want it. Providing the other party with this respect, I do believe, will be one of the largest barriers the Executive and Legislate Branches will be forced to face over the next two years.
Realistically, overcoming that respect barrier between President Trump, Congress, and the American Public does seem, at times, impossible. Instead, then, Congress can begin on a more achievable level by focusing on respect and active listening within its own branch of government. I predict there is more hope in this slow and gradual change occurring over the next few years based on observed attitudes and motivations of members of Congress. Hearing Senator Marky, an influential Democrat, acknowledge work he has done with long-term Republican senators, and learning more about the success and support that groups in Congress, such as the Problem Solvers Caucus have had from Republican Representative Tom Reed and Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, really inspires hope that this could occur in the next two years.
Tom Reed said two things in particular that shed light on how this respect, leading to understanding, agreement, and progress will occur. First, it is important to remember that at the end of the day we are all proud of our beliefs and the majority of Congress are good people who truly took on the role of public office to make a difference for their constituents. This then, makes them capable to work with and give respect to. Second is that sometimes something as simple as listening to and respecting the language that the opposite side of the political spectrum prefers helps to create a conversation that both parties are comfortable to engage in. In simple terms, I believe that reflects the future of the newly sworn-in Congress. That, in a time of increased distance and argument between the Executive and Legislative branch, Congress may be forced to revert back to times where respect extended across the partisan divide, which lead to the ability to uncover shared interests, moving past bipartisan politics and gridlock and refocusing on properly representing their constituency.

Representative Tom Reed and Representative Jim McGovern having a respectful and productive conversation about partisan politics.

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