The 2016 election cycle is one of the wildest and strangest we’ve seen, especially the presidential contests. In recent days these campaigns have raised interesting questions about protest and disruption.
Former Senate leaders Trent Lott and Tom Daschle speak to those points in their insightful new book, Crisis Point. In the introduction they say, “The adversarial system of government, was meant to spur debate, challenge complacency, and drive progress. It has sustained our Republic for over 225 years, but we have to face a sad truth: it has stopped working. In fact, it has begun to work against us.”
These two, from opposing parties and political perspectives, assert that partisan rancor has replaced reasoned debate and whether deliberate or unintentional the media has become a forum for voices to shout at each other, without facing one another, in an ever-escalating arms race that airs the extremes at such deafening levels it drowns out everything and everyone else in between.
Daschle and Lott remind us that our differences and diversity are a large part of what has made America the great nation we love. Our founding fathers established a climate that encouraged contrarians, stimulated argument and that very process has sustained us. Disparate interests competed with and checked each other. “The pulling from both sides is intended to create a strong whole, just as two opposing forces pulling a rope tightens that rope. However, too much tension breaks the rope entirely, an apt metaphor for where we find ourselves,” the authors say.
We should never forget the lengthy and heated arguments the Continental Congress conducted regarding separation from England, arguments that resulted in the Declaration of Independence. Author Joseph Ellis remembers “a decade-long shouting match” in the 1790s that produced our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Both helped unify 13 disparate colonies into a strong nation, while not allowing government to become so powerful we felt the need to revolt all over again.
Today’s contrarians and protestors should be encouraged and are not, as some suggest, tearing us apart. They are voices to which we need to actively listen. Our very existence and strength has come from these necessary and valuable arguments. With the exception of The Civil War, people of good will seeking the common good have always come together to find those things we can agree upon and find compromise, a word with an undeserved bad name.
What has historically been – and should continue to be – perhaps our biggest virtue, the ability to disagree, is devolving into our great failing. The First Amendment guarantees every citizen the right to protest and advocate for or against issues they believe important, but it does not offer that guarantee when that protest becomes disruptive. This belief that one side can only win when the other side loses runs counter to our history, is unproductive and impedes any hope of reaching win-win progress for the common good. We see it in our Congress, in many legislatures and Town Halls.
Lott and Daschle contend we need to take the time to develop chemistry among those with whom we differ, have the courage to listen to them, demonstrate true leadership and vision through finding compromise. Our continued greatness demands we return to those long-held practices and back down from this crisis point.
Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of N.C. Spin.