Seeking Civil Discourse
Last weekend, I had an experience which really
startled me. My wife and I have been playing cards with
a group of other couples for years, and our most recent
meeting was this past weekend. During the course of the
evening, I found myself at a table with three of the
group's women. I got up to get a snack, and
when I got back realized that they were discussing
the obnoxious behavior of some of the college football
fans at the game which was on TV.
During the course of the conversation, they all
agreed that this is the fault of Donald Trump - that
the reason everyone is now so rude to one another,
that we can't have a civil conversation, is because
Trump calls people names.
I was not aware that college football fans were
known as such paragons of tact and sportsmanship, but
. . . well, there you go. The conversation proceeded,
and it soon became clear that the women were not just
blaming Trump for the bad behavior of college fans. In
their opinion, Trump is responsible for pretty much
everything they dislike in public life right now.
I managed to speak up and say that I thought their
impression was not correct, that Trump is not the
cause, that he is a response. This was not easy for
me - I do not like confrontation, and I felt very
uncomfortable, because I felt as though I was the
target of their rage. Worth noting is that I do not
believe the women intended to target me. They simply
had never conceived of the possibility that someone
might not agree with them.
Anyway, the avenue I tried to use to point out
that I disagreed was to say that the other side had
used to IRS to target their political opponents. To
me, that seems pretty un-civil, so blaming Trump for
everything is a little unfair.
The response, from one of the women was (literally),
"I don't know anything about the IRS, but you just
can't call someone little something. That's just not
Belittling someone with a name somehow seems like a
much bigger deal to her than using the full power of
the IRS to destroy someone's life.
After that, we got to hear about a number of other
difficult and controversial topics. I feel as though
things got better, but . . . well, I don't know. At
one point, another of the women said (again, literally),
"I don't care, I just HATE him."
Now, there are a lot of things which deserve to be
said about this conversation. About the hubris involved
in simply assuming no one could ever disagree with your
point of view, about how someone voicing hate can blame
others for generating hate . . . but what I want to focus
on is something I said to my wife after the evening.
"I hope I didn't lose us any friends, tonight."
That ought to be an over-reaction. We have been friends
with those couples for years. But I was taken aback by the
level of rage and hate - and, again, I felt as though it
was directed at me, even though they did not, at the
beginning of the evening, realize that I was one of the
people they hate and despise.
A little more than a year ago, I attended a meeting of a
group which was created for the purpose of supporting free
speech, the open discussion of ideas. This particular meeting
was a panel discussion, with a couple of conservatives and a
couple of liberals sitting on stage. At one point, the panel
members were asked what they thought of the premise of the
group, and their answers were striking.
When the progressives spoke, both of them said they really
valued the premise of the discussion, because they had been
raised in conservative households, but their fathers had
always demonstrated the principle of listening to the other
point of view. They were grateful to their fathers for
demonstrating that openness.
The conservatives, on the other hand, had a different
reason for supporting the free speech group. Namely, their
experience was that when their progressive friends and
relatives learned that they were conservative, they were
cut off - ignored and shunned.
The contrast is pretty striking, and it echoes my worry
after the card party. Progressives only accept people who
agree with them - they cut off, cut ties, stop speaking
with anyone who runs against their orthodoxy. That was
made clear by the anecdotes at the free speech meeting,
and it is what I am concerned about with my card group.
Now, it is important to be clear that this is all just
anecdotal evidence. Furthermore, the free speech group
itself provides some counter-evidence - it is dedicated
to NOT allowing relationships to be broken over these
sorts of disagreements. The progressives in that group
deserve accolades for their efforts to remain
However, my sense is that they are the exception, rather
than the rule. I have already shared several anecdotes.
Couple those with the reality that I worry I would never
be invited back to a couple of my adjunct teaching jobs
if administrators were ever to learn that I do not follow
progressive orthodoxy. Then mix in the reality that Antifa
perpetrates violence against conservatives on a regular
basis - and that there is no conservative version of
The fact of the matter is that free speech and the
hearing of all sides of an issue is a conservative
value. The nature of conservatism is to avoid making
drastic changes until you are sure the change will
improve the situation - it is conservative to "do your
due diligence", to look for unexpected pitfalls, to
review all alternatives.
To engage in rational, careful, critical thought.
Progressivism, on the other hand, pursues change
aggressively. If you feel that something is right,
demand the change immediately. In many cases,
progressives demand change simply for the sake of
change - for variety and newness of experience.
As a result, I think my fears are justified. I do not
expect that my wife and I will actually be cut off simply
as a result of this one evening. But I will not be
surprised if there is a gradual change in our treatment
from the members of the group. And, eventually - well,
we shall see.