A quote from the historical icon Frederick Douglass in 1857 seems most appropriate even today:
"The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of struggle. … If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning."
Clearly there is much “agitation” in today’s political discourse, and maybe that’s how it should be. As uncomfortable as it is to participate in debate with someone who does not share your ideas or philosophies, it is debate that must happen for us to live together. Those who try to fracture this bond of debate do more harm to the fabric of this country than do any of us who participate in it, irrespective of its intensity.
Douglass, of course, was talking about the coming conflict between cultures when debate stopped and violence replaced it. It took almost 700,000 dead Americans and hundreds of thousands more injured in war to figure out debate might be a little less damaging than open hostility. Many of us debate and argue with one another to the point of disgust and name calling and all the rest, but no muskets are loaded or knives drawn. We already fought a civil war, we don’t need another.
I would like to imagine the progress Douglass talked about still can occur today. Progress means to go forward, not backward. Progress, I think, means to go forward as a nation and not as a collection of little ideological cells of self-absorbed righteousness. As much as politicians and their handlers want to divide us up into those little pieces, we must resist. We must continue the debate no matter what.
Karl Rove might go down in history as being the most significant character in dividing post-World War II Americans into ideological camps that are not only diametrically opposed to one another, but incapable of holding intelligent conversation or debate. How did he do that? Why did he do that? He did it by telling his employers to never admit a mistake, always blame the opponent for things gone wrong and always attack your opponent to constantly keep him/her on the defensive. This strategy created anger and divisiveness that Rove’s candidate exploited to garner votes. They didn’t care that it turned off voters and minimized the poll turnout; indeed, fewer voters meant more likely outcomes in their favor.
The best example today of this strategy gone to extremes is the tea party/birther movement. The angry, self-centered “policy” of this group now is trumping — pun intended — reasonable discourse even from the Rove-schooled Republicans who keep playing to their base. From everything I read, this base is becoming increasingly radicalized and is attempting to make success seem like failure, good people seem like fools and positive attempts to do good seem like evil. What kind of base are we talking about here? What sort of society wants to be built on a base like that?
Some will chastise those of us who engage in spirited debate because it makes them uncomfortable.
The point is progress must be made. If it is not, we will slide back to the banal prejudices and uncivilized hatred that marked our time as an uncivil society in the 19th century.
We probably never will agree on exactly how things should be, but we should strive to find ways for our individual ideas to find points of agreement and overlap. Sometimes, to do that, we must have moments of discomfort with one another including with those we love and respect. That is human nature. That is how progress is made. This is the 21st century, not the 19th.
Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. "The Voter’s Guide to National Salvation" is a newly published e-book from Turner. You can find it at www.barnesandnoble.com/ebooks. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.