If you follow American politics seriously, you are aware that the past few weeks have been almost unprecedented in terms of nasty discourse. The politics of personal destruction are in place on almost every issue.
We are on the verge of being defined more by the differences of our political party affiliation than by things we share as countrymen. The polarization of America is almost complete, with very little place for a middle of the road moderate.
I never thought I would hear some of the words that have come out of the mouth of our President in the past few days. These are not words caught on tape or audio. They are said proudly in front of thousands of supporters with dozens of cameras capturing offending language for the world to see.
My wife says that those who use curse words in public, or private for that matter, are only showing what a limited vocabulary they have. I will admit that my vocabulary has been limited occasionally. Sometimes it seems that no other word will fit. But then I am not the President of the United States and the supposed leader of the free world.
I am not being self-righteous here. I have had my mouth washed out with soap before and probably deserved it many more times. However, I do think that words matter. I think that words from our leaders matter a lot.
I have been elected as a Democrat, a Republican and non-partisan. No party defines me completely and as much as Fox News or MSNBC would like to think otherwise, my network of choice does not define me either.
I am afraid, however, that we are in danger of letting the talking heads on cable and the elected officials in Washington and elsewhere define us. At least they are telling us who we should be. They define patriotism in a way that our founding fathers would not have recognized.
The mail regularly brings me solicitations for contributions to political causes or candidates. They invariably start out by demonizing their opponent. You have to go through a scorched earth description of the horrid nature of the “other side” before you can find anything positive. I long for the letter that tells me why they are the best candidate and how they can make life better for my grandchildren.
My family has always described me as a devil’s advocate. I would take the opposing position on any argument just to enjoy the conversation. The funny thing is that when you disagree but still have a civil discussion, you might just learn something.
Who among us has never changed our mind? To do so in today’s world is a sign of weakness, a sign of defeat. Never apologize. Never admit you are wrong. Never compromise.
It we cannot disagree civilly, then how do we build a consensus that carries a true majority of the nation forward? Are we destined to always be a nation split evenly down the middle?
It might be a bit much to ask for you to turn off your Facebook for the next few months as the election heats up. However, you can at least look for those obviously fake articles that are designed to spread dissention, disinformation and hate.
Make yourself a pledge not to share highly partisan and likely half true articles written by someone you have never heard of writing for some organization that does not exist. Sharing such garbage does three things. It exposes your own closed mind. It does not change the minds of anyone who happens to read it. It makes your friends uncomfortable.
I have had political discussions with friends and family over my entire life concerning subjects much more difficult that the Ukraine phone call. To my knowledge, I never lost a friend over our different beliefs and I know I never lost a family member.
Please consider your strongly worded posts and shares before sending them to an unfiltered audience. With a click of a share button, you are putting someone else’s hateful and often untruthful words into your own mouth. You are saying something to your friend that you would never say to them in person.
I know this to be true because I am that friend. I choose to make up my own mind. I will watch and listen to every network. I will read conservative and liberal newspapers. I will watch debates for just small snippets of what might be important to me.
Call me for a cup of coffee and we can discuss the sorry state of politics. I will even take whatever side you would like to argue for or against. We will share a laugh, defend a thought, and shake hands as friends when we depart.
It is really okay to disagree. Let us be civil and respectful of each other’s views. Work to listen more and talk less. And for the sake of our friendship, do not assume I agree with you when you press the share button.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org