Is there any way for citizens to restore effective and non-maddening political debate? It won’t be easy to reverse these trends given the ideological and partisan takeover of most institutions. But here are a few ideas:
1. Practice self-restraint and choose not to engage in destructive politics and discourse. If a big political event occurs, or national or international challenge arises, people should take a breath and resist piping off online or on the air or at the bar about whatever half-baked opinion comes to mind. Take the time to learn all the facts of the situation and withhold judgement until the full picture emerges. And definitely hold back from laying into someone else who might have a different take or point-of-view on the matter. You won’t change their mind in that moment, and it will likely just encourage more destructive back-and-forth with no resolution.
2. Don’t make politics the center of your life. As Peter Juul notes in yesterday’s post, politics has become a religion to too many people. Except it’s not religion. It’s democracy. There are no revealed truths, origin stories, scriptures, or miracles in politics. The political sphere is a place for people of different backgrounds and views to engage in dialogue, and sometimes contentious fights, about the proper course for the country. By definition, ideas and policies discussed in the political world ebb and flow and are not moored to unchanging truths or clerical dictates. Americans should find these deeper meanings in other aspects of life, and help return politics to its rightful position as a place to discuss and argue about viable solutions to common problems.
3. Support more ideologically diverse writing and analysis. The blogosphere was one of the best mini-trends of the early 00’s. Generalists, policy nerds, regular citizens, and niche local experts put out interesting facts or analysis along with non-traditional opinions—maybe with a few typos and run-on sentences but usually interesting and democratic in spirit. Substack and other platforms now make it much easier to do this old-school blogging again, and people should be encouraged—and paid when possible—to start writing and doing interesting national and local analysis. You will probably pick up more useful ideas from these forums than you will from the agit-prop masquerading as journalism at The New York Times or The Washington Post these days. Political analysis and journalism needs true diversity of thought, as well as diversity of people and work backgrounds, to thrive as a means for understanding complex issues and proposing solutions to key social and economic problems.