COMMENTARY: America’s anger and division came to a boiling point in Chicago recently when fights broke out at a cancelled Donald Trump rally. Fortunately no one was killed. But if we keep this up, I fear it’s only a matter of time.
It’s been quite challenging in recent months to moderate NMPolitics.net’s social media discussions. We’ve slogged through anger, vitriol, and even some violent speech while seeking productive spaces for conversation.
Venom often consumes social media. The anonymity allowed in some forums encourages hateful speech. Even when moderated, many online forums still have a weakness – it’s easy to think of people as Facebook profiles instead of humans. The result is often much different than when people talk face-to-face over a cup of coffee.
I don’t allow name-calling during NMPolitics.net’s discussions. Criticism must be respectful. That’s an attempt to foster bridge-building conversations. Many New Mexicans have responded positively and called NMPolitics.net a bright spot online.
Still, keeping discourse respectful and productive is a daily struggle. Trump and most of the other presidential candidates have engaged in degrading speech that I don’t allow in NMPolitics.net’s forums. How can we focus on addressing society’s ills when even they steer the debate toward insults?
Meanwhile, America’s efforts to raise people out of poverty have stalled. Police are disproportionately shooting people of color. The middle class is shrinking as people lose wealth. Death rates are rising at an alarming rate for middle-class, white Americans.
Our problems are even worse in New Mexico, which ranks near the bottom on too many lists.
It’s really difficult to find common ground when well-funded super PACs, some news organizations, and many politicians play up our divisions for their own gain. When we willingly go along, we accept a broken and divided America – and they profit.
I don’t accept that future.
Our founding fathers challenged us to work together to build a better society for all. It’s messy. Our system is far from perfect, and us flawed human beings are tasked with improving it.
I believe we can do it. A spirited Facebook discussion recently led state Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque, and Del Hansen, a retired educator from Las Cruces, to meet for coffee. They found agreement on James’ proposal to allow part-time, adjunct teachers in grades 7-12, which died in the last legislative session.
“I walked away from the meeting with a completely different appreciation for the legislation than I had expected,” Hansen told me. “…What is obvious in this life lesson is that our citizen legislators are real people, doing an often thankless job, and who just might harbor a different opinion than we. And that’s OK.”
Sometimes, Hansen told me, we have to “dig below the surface” to find “the best possible answer.”
The message of the 2016 election is that people from across the ideological spectrum are fed up with the direction of our society and the dysfunction and paralysis of our government.
We have the power to do something about it.
We’re not doing the hard work of creating a functional government when we fight wars of words on Facebook and throw punches at presidential rallies. As long as disenfranchised people keep battling each other, America will continue moving toward an oligarchical society that serves the wealthy while squeezing the rest of us into suffering.
We’re capable of engaging with a spirit of wisdom and compassion that builds understanding. Let’s reject the politics that keep us divided and marginalized.