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Americans need to have better political conversations

Think about the last friendly conversation you had. 

Perhaps you discussed the unpredictable weather or the Oklahoma City Thunder’s unexpected push towards the postseason. Maybe you debated whether Raising Cane’s or Chick-fil-A has the superior fast food fried chicken. 

What about politics? Odds are high this particular subject was off the table. 

According to a Pew Research Center poll released last week, 45% of American adults have stopped discussing political and election news with someone based on something they said. The remaining 54% said they would keep discussing political views regardless of the differing beliefs. 

The timing of this study is not random—love it or hate it, another election year is upon us. Democratic primaries have already been held in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Super Tuesday is less than three weeks away. A Democratic candidate will be selected sometime in mid-July, with media coverage and debate heating up from then to November. 

In the modern digital age, information from a variety of sources consistently bombards us. It can be difficult to differentiate fact from opinion, credible from unreliable and extreme from viable. 

It can also be difficult to break free from our own bubble of familiar news and information sources. It is easier than ever to access news which confirms our biases and reinforces our view of the world. This is why being willing to engage in civil political dialogue with our friends and colleagues is important. 

I am not saying every conversation must center around politics. The world and our lives are more than who is president or who represents us in congress. But our democracy as we know it can only be successful if a majority of citizens do not shy away from politics, and instead are educated and engaged in the political process. 

We must be willing to log off of Facebook and venture into the real world, engaging in face to face conversations. The internet is the Wild West when it comes to political discussion. Political discussion forums are often an echo chamber, with dissenters being shut down quickly. It is much easier to become vile and vulgar behind a keyboard, with your identity hidden, than in person. 

How does this environment of healthy political discussion manifest itself on a practical level? It means not constantly talking about politics, but also not shying away from the subject. It means maintaining a level of respect for our peers, and not “canceling” them if they express a non-extreme viewpoint which conflicts from our own. It means being willing to talk to people who have different backgrounds and beliefs than we do. 

This ideal is easier said than accomplished. Divided, partisan politics in America dates back to the 1700s, when newspapers would align themselves with a political party and spread rumors and misinformation about the opposition. The Trump versus Hillary battle in 2016 was not the first presidential campaign to become ugly.

Debate and differences in opinion are inevitable in a two-party government. However, disrespecting and dehumanizing those with differing opinions and ideologies does not have to be our reality. Modern technology can make it easy to live in a bubble which confirms our own biases, but it can also make it easier to understand and respect people with different backgrounds and beliefs. At the end of the day, we are all human. 

As we look forward to the 2020s, issues like healthcare, climate change, immigration and social security face Americans. Practical solutions to these issues will not be solved through partisan politics. Compromise and dialogue are necessary if we want to build a better future for America—and dialogue cannot stop at the first point of disagreement. 


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