Dec 13 | 2018 Re-Wire Policy Conference | Learn More

Creating space for constructive disagreement on policy

The hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, including the testimony from Dr. Chrstine Blasey Ford,  created a watershed moment for American civics.

Together, our country experienced a flash point in our history, something that we will all look back upon in time and recall how we felt during the experience.

History will judge us and this period in time, though few believe it will judge us well.

History will also judge how we handle the repercussions of the event, how we respond to one another in the months and years moving forward.

David Brooks is a columnist the NY Times. Brooks argues we need more places to get together as a result of these hearings, more places to break down stereotypes about one another before we act upon them.

The Kavanaugh hearings were a look in the mirror, and a vivid display of how ugly things have become. What are we going to do about it?

Elections are seldom a time for comity.  The point of elections is to divide and be counted, to argue competing visions for the future of our experiment in self-government.

But, after our elections are held, it will be time to reassemble.  It will be time to leave behind the name calling that would divide us and to call each other by our common name: citizen.

To re-assemble as a citizenry, and to heal the wounds caused by the necessary division of our elections, we must act with intention.

Wounds don’t heal without salve and the dutiful attention of some nursing.  So too is the case in our republic – both the sovereign state and the sovereign federal government.  Healing doesn’t happen in our civic discourse and common citizenship without intention, care and tending.

Brooks argues that we should get together more often and look one another in the eye.  That doing so will break down stereotypes we might hold about one another and

Bigotry involves creating a stereotype about a disfavored group and then applying that stereotype to an individual you’ve never met…

It’s clear that we need a new sort of environmental movement, a movement to police our civic environment. That environment isn’t polluted by a vague condition called “polarization.” It is polluted by the specific toxic emissions we all produce in our low moments. Those emissions have to be precisely identified, classified, called out as shameful.

It’s also clear we have to set up more forums for personal encounters between different kinds of people. You detoxify disputes when you personalize them. People who don’t have regular contact with people they disagree with become intellectually dishonest quickly.

I think Brooks is on to something here.

If we don’t create credible places to come together for constructive discourse and disagreement, then we won’t have any.  

Here is one coming up on December 13th sponsored by the Wire.  Here is another lined up next year by Crosscut.

If you read the Wire, you are paying attention to the politics and policy conversations of our state.  You’re thinking about the role and purpose of government.  You’ve created opinions about the scope and structure of our economy, our institutions, and our self-government.

On these points, you hold considerable sway in your community.  I bet people listen to you and your opinions when it comes to politics and process.  Show them what constructive discourse looks like.  Be a model for thoughtful, careful disagreement.  Remind them that “e pluribus unum” and that while we are different, we can and should still work together.