Political dialogue packs a punch
Uncharted territory inside the ring
November 2, 2018
Liberal and conservative conversations often result in a losing match for both sides, according to junior Alyscia Thomas. As midterm elections approach she said pressures are high among her peers.
A championship advantage
Thomas said after the 2016 election, she felt tension between herself and opposing political parties.
“I feel like a lot of people are angry, and there isn’t a lot of discussion happening. A lot of it is shut down a lot of times,” Thomas said.
According to political science professor from the University of Minnesota Daniel Myers, the aspects of polarization we face are deeper than conservatives and liberals disliking one another.
“For most people their identity for Republican or Democrat is less tied to Democrats or Republicans but is more tied to the fear for the other party,” Myers said.
According to Myers, as a professor he has experienced discussions where politics and emotional values get intertwined.
“When we talk about politics we are not just talking about them in a totally subjective way,” Myers said. “People’s politics are tied up in their personal identity in important ways.”
People don’t even know they can talk to their political opposites. There’s no place to go.
— Ross Irwin, Bridge USA chief development officer
According to chief development officer at Bridge USA Ross Irwin, his organization fosters civil discussions for students who disagree politically throughout America.
“A large (political) group will project their values onto a decision another group has made. People take what they believe is the (source) of the issue and where the moral high ground is,” Irwin said.
People use the party they chose nationally when deciding who to vote for in the state elections, according to Myers.
“You are more likely to see people voting down ballot or state races based on their partisanship. Based on the national level, you might vote for state legislature based on Donald Trump even though those are two different levels of government,” Myers said.
According to Irwin, people are not aware civil conversations can occur even if people don’t agree.
“People don’t even know they can talk to their political opposites. There’s no place to go. People say, ‘Oh we should be able to work together more at least or understand the other side,’” Irwin said.
Myers said controversial opinions often receive bigger reactions.
“If you voice unpopular opinions there are people who are going to use freedom of speech to respond to you,” Myers said.
According to Myers, a conservative student of his once said he couldn’t speak his mind without being verbally attacked.
“I had a conservative student say to me, ‘I say something in class and six hands shoot up to tell me why I’m wrong.’ Part of the dialogue is helping people respond to that,” Myers said.
Nuclear heat in Park
Myers said the results from the last presidential election have worsened the political divide in America.
“The 2016 election increased the mutual distrust and dislike that Democrats and Republicans have for each other,” Myers said.
According to freshman Anna Overall, the lack of productive political conversations in the classroom is because of a lack of privacy.
“What happens in the classroom does not stay in the classroom. If I hear someone say something anti-Semitic I am going to tell my closest friends, so I don’t know how a teacher can say ‘State your opinion’ if it won’t stay in the class,” Overall said.
Myers said he finds politicians with power often use incentives to divide or create fear among the opposing side.
“It’s gotten tougher in the last couple years. Because (politics are) tied to our personal identities, it becomes very personal,” Myers said.
Sophomore Daniel Goldenberg said the sensitivity in politics is another leading cause of stagnant conversations.
“People take it too personally. Right now most people in our school are pro-choice, including me,” Goldenberg said. “A lot of these people would see this one politician and see that he’s pro-life — say the rest of his opinions are crazy good — but they find out he’s pro-life. They’re going to take it personally and hate him just for that.”
Thomas said a big factor in improving these conversations is being aware of diverse personal histories.
“Keeping an open mind that everyone comes from different backgrounds is very important,” Thomas said.
Goldenberg said because the majority of people at Park are liberal, tension breaks out between differing opinions.
“Most of the people at our school are pretty liberal. Even I oppose the current administration even though I’m more Republican,” Goldenberg said. “It’s caused people to get way more offended. You can say one opinion and all these people are attacking you. The majority team up on the minority and don’t let them share their viewpoint.”
Civics teacher Kara Cisco said the majority of people have had their voices silenced directly because of a lack of listening ability in our conversations.
“I think everyone has experienced not having their opinions heard, it’s like a universal experienced for so many that’s why we all have to get better at speaking and listening,” Cisco said.
Thomas said students need to be more active in political conversations to have practice for their partaking in elections someday.
“I think in schools we should have more discussion because we’re the new upcoming voters we need to be speaking about this.” Thomas said.
Making a comeback
According to Irwin, no matter what happens in our political climate people cannot be left out of the conversation.
“One of our primary rules are if you don’t shut anyone out of the conversation, everyone is allowed to come,” Irwin said.
Cisco said she tries to create political change in her classroom by making sure every student has a chance to speak out and make arguments for dissenting opinions.
“One thing I am getting better at as a teacher is when I do ping pong debates, not only am I doing a smaller group, I also make sure students have to offer the opposite side,” Cisco said.
Goldenberg said he believes people need to stop taking things personally and listen to the opposing side.
“I think there should be less sensitivity, not in the fact that they should keep people from saying stuff but people need to be less sensitive,” Goldenberg said.
Myers said First Amendment rights do not justify verbal attacks on others, but people are allowed to respond.
“If you voice unpopular opinions, then there are people who are going to use there freedom of speech to respond to you,” Myers said. “Freedom for speech doesn’t mean freedom for criticism.”
According to Goldenberg, politics aren’t everything and there is no reason to be offended or get mad.
“Everyone needs to relax and not take it personally. It’s just political views. There’s no need to get angry about politics,” Goldenberg said.
According to Myers, if people leave behind their political differences, everything will be done correctly.
Party alignment will not matter and it should feel like a discussion, not an argument, according to Myers.
“If you do this people will think of it less like Democrats or Republicans and more like a group project,” Myers said. “It is crucial to understand and listen to both sides even if you disagree, Myers said.