On Political Intolerance in America

A Republican and a Democrat discuss political intolerance.
Image design by Vinicius Tavares for DWF. All rights reserved.

How Can We Regain Our Capacity to Respectfully Debate and Disagree?

By Robert Wilkes, Senior Correspondent at Divided We Fall, and Sean Fischer, Administrator & Adjunct Faculty, Rowan University


A Republican and a Democrat discuss political intolerance.

Political Intolerance is a Threat to the Republic; Here’s What We Can do About It

By Robert Wilkes – Senior Correspondent at Divided We Fall

If you voted for Trump you’re a fascist, an insurrectionist, a racist, a misogynist, a homophobe, a xenophobe, a gun nut, a doltish reactionary in the way of progress, and you’re taking the country down. You’re a threat to democracy. I hate you.

If you voted for Biden you’re a radical socialist. You will use the armed power of the state to squash political opposition and ruin the lives of ordinary citizens. Your economic, immigration, and policing policies are an epic disaster. Your woke nonsense is distorting our history, destroying our schools, and hurting our children, and you’re taking the country down. I hate you.

A Dangerous Path Forward

What a mess. We are increasingly angry and our amygdala is firing in fight-or-flight mode when we engage with opposing viewpoints. Naturally, we need to blame someone or something and the media cheerfully provides a steady stream of people to hate.

Anger leads to stress, stress to bitterness, and bitterness to unhappiness. It’s a horrible way to live. These tensions create self-defeating pessimism and disillusion. We no longer believe that America has a bright future. A family Thanksgiving dinner is about as much fun as taking a walk through a minefield. Young people are especially disillusioned and distrustful. They are increasingly withdrawing from the responsibilities of citizenship, family formation, and work. This is not a good trend for the future of the country.

How Can we Fight Political Intolerance?

As the political feuds rage on, our nation faces challenges that threaten the future of the Republic. As long as January 6 and Mar-a-Lago are the central issues, we are ignoring things that matter. People we elected to lead America are absorbed in catfighting which amounts to moving deck chairs on the Titanic. Real problems, such as recession, inflation, immigration, public debt, and America’s increasingly feeble ability to deter Russian, Chinese, and Iranian aggression, are becoming potentially irreversible.

How did things get this bad, and what should we do about it? As a conservative, I have my views, and I welcome a healthy debate with my colleague on the other side of the political spectrum. Here are my thoughts on how to tamp things down:

  1. Extremists don’t represent the parties. Stop citing extremists to attack each other. Republicans are not white supremacists and Democrats are not communist revolutionaries. The Proud Boys are not the Republican Party any more than ANTIFA is the Democratic Party. This sort of corrosive nonsense takes on a life of its own. Bitter attitudes become entrenched and we talk past each other.

  2. Too often, the media is blatantly unethical. Let’s fight back. The only way is to tune them out when they lie to us. That’s just what is happening at CNN, the most unethical of them all. CNN’s ratings are tanking and it’s well deserved.

  3. Politicians need to show some character—in other words, integrity, honesty, and responsibility. If they don’t have character, vote them out. They need to act as statesmen concerned for the country and all its citizens. Don’t encourage them to do or say anything to increase the power of their party. Make them stop playing games with us. We all know they write 700-page bills with phony, euphemistic names to hide billions of dollars for special interests.

  4. There are two political orientations in America and the world. Accept it. It’s here to stay. The left wants a strong central government to address inequities. The right sees America as the most successful nation in history and seeks to preserve the institutions, culture, and ideals that made it that way. These two world views are in conflict with one another, as they have always been throughout history. Let’s treat each other with respect and restore the opportunity for dialogue. Let’s reach compromises that, by nature, luck, or providence, are the best solutions for the greatest number of people.

I cannot think of a time when any president other than Donald Trump had the power to divide the country by mere force of personality. Nixon had enemies and eventually lost the support of his friends. But nothing in Nixon’s time matches the histrionics of Trump haters today. We have reached a level of derangement that this film clip from the film adaptation of Orwell’s book, 1984, characterizes perfectly. The workers assemble each day for two minutes of hate. Donald Trump is the new Elliot Goldstein. In our time, CNN provides two minutes of hate all day long. Let’s all calm down. Trump has a big mouth. He is not Satan. MAGA is an idea, and a good one, not an epithet. As Marcus Aurelius said, “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”


A Republican and a Democrat discuss political intolerance.

When Discussing Political Intolerance, We Must Not Overlook How We Got Here

By Sean Fischer – Administrator & Adjunct Faculty, Rowan University

In his most recent piece, Mr. Wilkes writes with a notable urgency on the subject of how we as a nation are losing our capacity to respectfully debate and disagree. I share with him a growing concern that those who refuse to tolerate alternative perspectives feed a corrosive force in our nation today, one that is seemingly becoming more and more deep-rooted. He and I have each previously discussed how political coverage is all too often presented like reality television, which relies on conflict to be entertaining. As we recently discussed together, younger people are seemingly growing increasingly disillusioned by the current political atmosphere, expressing an apathy that stands in stark contrast to the founder’s expectations of an engaged citizenry. Nevertheless, he and I have disagreed publicly, privately, and profoundly on matters of politics, public policy, and political philosophy. 

Our Leaders Must be Held to the Highest Standard

In his piece, Mr. Wilkes seems to suggest the search for justice over January 6, 2021, and the lawfully executed search warrant of former President Trump’s Florida estate are distracting and insubstantial sideshows, taking up oxygen from more important issues. Here, I cannot rectify how Mr. Wilkes, a man with sincere veneration for respectful discourse and an earnest desire to protect the integrity of the American republic, provides coverage for a politician known for combusting and creating insulting nicknames; a man who arguably violated his oath of office while failing in his responsibilities as the head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief on January 6, 2021. I struggle to understand why Mr. Wilkes does not see how the former president has earned the shame, embarrassment, and comeuppance of his property being searched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and how alarming it is that a former president’s home needed to be searched over legitimate national security concerns.   

Regardless of these profound disagreements, I have always been struck by Mr. Wilkes’ devotion to engaging in respectful and thoughtful dialogue. I admire his abilities as a wordsmith. His writing is clever and clear and while I often take exception to many of his points, his purposeful and deliberate approach to crafting an argument has often pulled me in, reminding me that part of what makes the United States exceptional is our legacy of having held competing ideas in a “constructive tension,” so as to create new and original pathways forward.

We Must Remain Critical and Open-Minded Observers

Thus, I read his recommendations for how we might challenge this perceived growing intolerance with great interest and an open mind. In what has become a pattern in our discourse, I disagree with him in his defense of former president Donald Trump. He chides Trump for his “big mouth,” but ultimately provides a defense of Trump’s MAGA initiatives. I see Trump’s demagoguery, his sophomoric veneration of authoritarians, and his stayed insistence on undermining the integrity of our institutions as being immeasurably destructive to the health of our nation. Yet, I am compelled by Mr. Wilkes’ recommendations to be cautious and critical of using extremists as sensational exemplars for the entirety of a political coalition; to hold media sources ethically accountable for the veracity of their work, notwithstanding their entertainment value; to hold political leaders to the standard of successful statesmen, not the standard of a successful partisan; and to remind ourselves that we are better people and a better nation when we encourage dialogue.

Notwithstanding our pattern of disagreements, Mr. Wilkes’ and I each seemingly view public discourse as essential. It is stirring to find a commonality of concern on this issue as we each understand that it is through listening and engaging that we harness, leverage, and draw power from our nation’s incredible diversity. Mr. Wilkes’ reasonable observation of hardening political attitudes and his thoughtful recommendations are worthy of consideration. I disagree with him here and there on his examples and ideas but applaud his effort to create ripples in what appears to be an increasingly stagnating pond.  

 


Political Opponents are Not Insurrectionists…Unless You are Authoritarian

By Robert Wilkes – Senior Correspondent at Divided We Fall

I will clarify one point. You stated, “Mr. Wilkes provides a defense of Trump’s MAGA initiatives…”  I focus on MAGA because the movement is central to understanding the level of intolerance in our national discourse. I’ll explain what MAGA means to me and contrast that with how the President, the media, and other Democrats use the term.

MAGA is Misunderstood and Deliberately Misused

MAGA, to me, promises a return to national unity, national character, and optimism for the future. It is respect for freedom and individual rights and responsibilities. It honors hard work, middle-class values, and love of country; it believes in a strong defense and an unobtrusive, pragmatic, and limited government. Ronald Reagan set our sights high, describing America as a “shining city upon a hill.” Reagan’s vision was vivified by “MAGA” and Trump’s pro-growth policies. I believe in that vision.

Now the contrast. As with “Russian collusion,” the new absurdity is that the greatest threat to the U.S. is “attacks from within by MAGA Republicans.” It is the current trope repeated ad infinitum. This notion is contrary to fact. It is fear-mongering and cravenly political, an ad hominem attack on half a nation designed to suppress opposition to the Democrats’ massive political overreach.

Biden brags that his administration is going to “change people’s lives” and betrays a revolutionary disposition. In every revolutionary movement, the first task is to crush the opposition and crush it with ferocity. That’s the real purpose of perverting MAGA, to use it as a cudgel. It’s clear they can’t debate the issues. Reagan, my hero, predicted the Democratic Party of today in 1964 with uncanny accuracy.

Any wonder how we have reached this level of political intolerance?


Earnest Criticism Must Not be Confused With Political Intolerance

By Sean Fischer – Administrator & Adjunct Faculty, Rowan University

Much like Mike Pence, Wilkes defines MAGA as standard pre-Trump American Conservatism. Sadly, for most MAGAists, and to Trump himself, it means something very different. To many, it began as a call to return to a bygone era of de facto and de jure misogynistic and racial hegemony and ended with the disruption of a peaceful transition of power.

While I believe Mr. Wilkes is sincere in his reverence of conservative ideology, Trump’s perversions of both conservatism and patriotism betray Mr. Wilkes’ MAGA interpretation. Trump betrayed unity, national character, optimism, hard work, strong defense, and love of country. His government was the definition of obtrusive, anti-pragmatic, and bloated. Much like the fake-gold escalator he famously descended, Trump was only (at best) pyrite.

Disapproval is Not Always Political

As to Mr. Wilkes’ interpretation of Biden’s politics, to describe Biden as looking to “crush” anything is disingenuous. Moreover, Biden has not described “half the country” as dangerous. Notably, half the country has never supported Trump. He never won a popular vote and even the most devoted MAGAists are a minority. Indeed many Democrats and independents are loath to hear defenses of Trump. But as Voltaire indicated, those convinced of “absurdities” may commit “atrocities.” Intolerance of atrocity ought not to be confused with intolerance of philosophy.

Despite our disagreements, Mr. Wilkes and I pledged to listen and found we each have a devotion to dissecting and understanding the nuances of our political discourse, thus, revealing something exceptional in our system–that our shared reverence for principle is a stronger force than the tension of temporal political disagreement.



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Robert Wilkes
Senior Correspondent at Divided We Fall | + posts

Robert Wilkes, Senior Correspondent at Divided We Fall, is the former president/creative director of Wilkes Creative, a national branding and marketing company. Robert flew 100 combat missions in Vietnam as a Navy attack pilot. He spent ten years in engineering and marketing at Boeing, where his writing skills were called upon for technical papers, marketing assignments, and speeches for Boeing executives. As an activist in pro-Israel politics, he lobbied with AIPAC for 15 years where he met many congressmen and senators from both parties. Robert loves history, enjoys the craft of writing, and has a passion for civil debate. He resides in Bellevue, Washington.

Sean Fischer
Administrator & Adjunct Faculty, Rowan University | Website | + posts

Sean M. Fischer, Ed.D, has taught and currently teaches American History & American Government at a number of colleges. He's previously produced a public affairs radio show (Spotlight on Atlantic City, 96.1 WTTH) and is a veteran of numerous political campaigns.

1 comment

neil edward goldberg November 16, 2022 at 5:05 pm

Sorry to hear about the demise of Robert Wilkes. It is a great loss!
Condolences to Mrs. Wilkes and Family.

Reply

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