Friday, February 24, 2017

Can Liberals Become the Voice of Reason?

People are fired up.  Since the day after the inauguration, people have taken to the streets and social media, creating a wave of civil dissidence across the nation.  Now that we are into Town Hall season, the evening news is filled with clips of chippy constituents pointing fingers and booing their elected officials.  In Arizona, they are actually working right now to pass legislation to prosecute "rioters" under the RICO act, basically equating protest to organized crime.

While I get the frustration (and share it), are we in danger of this wave of energy backfiring in our faces?  I don't pretend to have the answers.  But I do know one thing: the decline of civil discourse didn't begin in 2016.  In fact, we've all been watching it first-hand for several years now.

During George W. Bush's administration, there were protests about his electoral win and then sustained protests against the invasion of Iraq.  When the Tea Party movement began in 2009, there were several allegations of racist and homophobic themes, remarks, and verbal assaults at a number of their events.  Occupy Wall Street, in 2011 and 2012, though successfully peaceful, created enough concern that the Department of Homeland Security issued memos about the potential for violence.  Black Lives Matter, beginning in 2014, have inspired protests across the nation in response to police violence against African Americans.  Several of those have been co-opted and corrupted by elements that just wanted to rage.  Whatever you think about any of these movements, their objectives, or their tactics, it's important to note the larger pattern:  we've been in a recurring cycle of social unrest across the political spectrum for the last seventeen years.  It has become the norm and it doesn't show any signs of slowing.

Closer to home, I've been actively engaged in utility policy matters for the last several years.  Now you can't imagine anything less exciting than utility rate design, trust me.  But in town halls across the city (I personally attended at least six of those), the same lack of civility dominated the events.  People felt perfectly within their rights to shout, point, defame, and just generally spout verifiably untrue things because it made them feel good.  It was universal. And it was embarrassing.  Is this who we are now?

The political divide is sharper and nastier now, as our current President has taken the rhetoric to new lows.  And, this time, we don't have a Dr King or Mahatma  Gandhi to galvanize a morally-based civil disobedience movement.  But we still have their lessons.  The question is, are we up to it?  Can we elevate ourselves, not to simply be the loyal opposition, but the dignified opposition?  In today's climate, would that even work?

I'm an idealist.  I never stop striving to put things in their best possible state.  But I'm not an optimist. It has been my experience that ignorance and incompetence are far more common qualities than reason and excellence.  Which will win, I wonder?

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