Americans need to re-evaluate the concept of political discourse

A lack of healthy political discourse among Biolans and the United States prevents understanding and tolerance.

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Americans need to re-evaluate the concept of political discourse

Courtesy of pixabay.com

Courtesy of pixabay.com

Courtesy of pixabay.com

Adam Pigott, Staff Writer

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Recently, Time magazine announced that Greta Thunberg was its person of the year for 2019. President Donald Trump responded to the nomination with his disapproval via Twitter

“So ridiculous,” he wrote. “Greta must work on her anger management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, chill!” 

Trump was out of line with his tweet. There are a number of areas where I believe Trump has done some great work, but trying to pick a fight with a teenager is not on that list. Unfortunately, this pattern of personal insults become a defining characteristic of political discussion on both sides.

A serious discussion needs to be had about the unhealthy state of political discourse in our country and at Biola. Political discourse, both online and in person, should not include insults directed at one’s integrity, physique, intelligence or any other personal trait. 

CRITICISM VS. MUDSLINGING

Tolerance, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is defined as the “willingness to accept behavior and beliefs that are different from your own, even if you disagree with or disapprove of them.” This concept is embodied in Americans’ First Amendment rights, which protect speech that others may not find agreeable. These constitutional protections apply to both those who publish their opinions and those who criticize those opinions. However, there is a difference between intelligent criticism and mudslinging. 

According to Merriam-Webster, a mudslinger is “one that makes malicious attacks especially against a political opponent.” Labeling a piece about how socialism and Christianity are incompatible as “borderline satanic” or saying that a Trump-supporting piece should be moved to a “comedy section” are examples of this behavior on Facebook. 

I am not opposed to these people holding their own beliefs, I simply believe there’s a better way to state their position. I am also not advocating for censorship, as I believe that it is important to preserve the First Amendment, even if it includes childish insults. There is a difference, however, between banter and mocking someone’s beliefs. Making jokes to people about how their state is going to flip colors in 2020 or how Trump once said that a million dollars is a small loan are light banter. Insulting someone’s reputation as a writer, a person and a student are not healthy forms of discourse.

As Christians and representatives of Biola—one of the country’s most well-known Christian universities—I believe we should be above this childish behavior. It is embarrassing to watch my fellow students and alumni act immaturely on social media because of a political disagreement.

There have been Planned Parenthood group leaders on campus and people that labeled the Covington Catholic students as representations of white supremacy, and I strongly disagree with these people. Despite my wholehearted disagreement with them, they should not be insulted for their views. Responding with insults discourages political discussion instead of fostering intelligent discussion that expands our knowledge of politics.

MY MESSAGE TO THE LEFT AND RIGHT

When it comes to mudslinging, I have seen my fair share on both sides. Conservatives lose the ability to have constructive political conversation with the left when they call them “libtards,” “do nothings” and “dumbocrats.” By criticizing Trump on his tweets and behavior and then going on to call every conservative and Trump supporter a Nazi, skinhead and white supremacist, the left disengages from conversation with the right.

 There are bad apples on both sides of the political spectrum. It is in Americans’ best interest to stop hurling insults at everyone, as it stops people from learning and understanding others’ perspectives and political ideas.

MY MESSAGE TO BIOLA

To be clear, I am not perfect in this area. I could be more patient, more tolerant and a better listener. However, I believe that one of the most crucial steps would be to recognize areas that need improvement. It is my hope to see better, healthier discussions in the U.S. and at Biola. Our ability to function as a society depends greatly on self-control, maturity and rational thinking.

If we are to put the pieces of a divided nation back together, we need to come to terms with the fact that everybody thinks and votes differently. Biola is a melting pot full of people with different ideas, and those ideas deserve to be heard. Biola students are called to grow and become stronger representations of Christ, and if we are to do that, we need to learn how to have healthy discussions and respect each other regardless of our disagreements.