Restoring Civil Debate
On a recent October evening, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at The Heritage Foundation’s Joseph Story Distinguished Lecture, just three days after the 25th anniversary of his swearing-in as an associate justice on the Court. Described as a “fearless originalist” regarding his defense of the Constitution, conservatives anxiously wait to see if the new Trump administration fulfills its campaign promise of appointing justices who will join Justice Thomas in upholding the principles as intended of that founding document.
As I listened to Justice Thomas comment on numerous topics, and specifically his reflections on the brokenness of Washington, DC, I wondered if he had any idea just how prophetic his words were in the aftermath of this election, except that the brokenness he spoke of isn’t confined to our nation’s capital. Our brokenness is reflected in the eroding of civil debate and each election cycle sadly demonstrates just how lacking we are in our ability to consider issues and policy without personal attack, or in the words of Justice Thomas, “we’ll just simply annihilate the person who disagrees with me.”* Further, as we’re witnessing after this election, far too many believe that rioting in the streets and harassing the daily lives of other citizens with demands and threats regarding the Electoral College votes is justified behavior in protesting results they do not like.
Because many of our citizens lack for a proper understanding of the purpose and brilliance of the Electoral College in protecting all of us from the dangers of “mob rule” in a pure democracy, the frustration and anger we are now seeing on the left is easily manipulated by forces that care little for the preservation of our constitutional representative republic.
While I am of the belief that the majority of the anger towards our system of government by progressives is enabled and encouraged by the left-leaning direction of our education system, those of us on the conservative side aren’t without our own unhealthy resentment of what we view wrong in our nation that can also discourage healthy debate. While those on the right aren’t prone to street rioting, I see an abundance of social media shares of misleading or false information easily debunked if only we take the time to research the source, and sharing only serves to discredit us.
Our lack of civil debate leads to what Justice Thomas describes as “destroying our institutions” and in his opinion, “I don’t think that’s going to change in this city until we get back to sort of a notion that we argue, that we debate, that we decide things based on logic and facts and reason as opposed to who yells the loudest or who has the best narrative or best meme or some other nonsense.”
I’ll add that there is nothing in our current manner of electing representation that even closely resembles debate. Whether presidential or congressional, our “debates” are increasingly only sound-bite forums in which candidates take more personal shots at each other than having significant discussion on the issues. But how responsible is the electorate for these “debates?” We are willing to spend more time, effort, and money on our various forms of entertainment than we are on studying the serious issues we face as a nation, and as long as the sound-bite campaigns satisfy the masses, it’s what we will continue to receive.
Our political divisions are hardly new as they have existed since the founding of this nation, only seemingly more intense and destructive with the introduction of social media, and I find myself wondering if our culture has reached a point where civil debate is beyond restoration. If so, the continuing escalation of the anger, name-calling, and division from both sides of the political aisle without civil discourse will likely destroy us from within.
The next four years with total Republican control of Congress and the office of President will be challenging at best given the level of anger from the left, and though tempting as it may be for those on the right frustrated by the past eight years of the Obama administration, it is crucial that we not return fire with fire. The next four years can offer conservatives an amazing opportunity, one truly of divine intervention proportions if we embrace it, to engage those who disagree with our conservative principles in respectful debate and persuasion regarding the policies that will be enacted. In leading by example, which will be a difficult task as the personal attacks will undoubtedly continue, we can hopefully begin to return to a more civil discussion of our differences.
As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the Truth of God’s Word revealed in human form, and praise Him for providing His divine mercy on our nation, let’s take time to reflect on just what we can do individually and within our various associations with others to repair our institutions that have long survived in this great experiment known as America, as our freedom deserves nothing less than our absolute best effort of preservation for the generations to come.
*Justice Clarence Thomas’ interview can be viewed in its entirety at http://www.heritage.org/events/2016/10/story-lecture
Marcia Chambliss serves on the leadership team of Smart Girl Politics, www.smartgirlpolitics.com, an online community for conservative women. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Her views do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Smart Girl Politics.