Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, believes that most every American has a role to play in helping their compatriots co-exist despite their differences, and “a good place to start is with self-reflection and looking within—first at ourselves as individual, then the parties and political movements we are a part of.”
In his view, “All of us, but particular our political leaders, need to challenge those with whom we share a common ideology to examine our own blindspots, to cease assuming those who hold different views that we do have nothing to teach us, and to stop dehumanizing our political opponents. We need people within our own political tribe to point out the limitations and dangers of excessive political tribalism, and how it can become an obstacle to intellectual honesty. Having liberals lecture conservatives about their lack of civility and comity, and vice-versa, typically inflames passions rather than calms things down. If we want to make progress we need more people to hold others within our political community accountable and to higher standards.”
We also need more people—many more people—to give voice to the belief that the purpose of political discourse and debate isn't to score partisan points or even to be proven right, but rather to better ascertain truth and reality. And that's often done by refining and amending our views as a result of scrutiny. It's just a very different way of approaching things.
Another thing we need to do is to understand that often our differences are not the result of the other person's moral failures or of them acting in bad faith, but rather placing different emphasis on different values, like authority and diversity, stability and change. That doesn't mean we'll agree on everything, but it does mean we might understand others a little better, see how they arrived at their position a little more clearly, and be a little less harsh in our assessment of those with whom we have deep differences.
These changes won't happen easily or quickly, but it's not as if it's beyond our capacity to achieve them. It's a matter of being purposeful, about thinking about the good of the whole.
My colleague Yuval Levin says we need a re-emphasis of federalism and subsidiarity. We can come to different political decisions in different parts of the country, and this can make it easier not harder for us to live together. It could help to lower the temperature of our national politics while increasing the salience of politics that happens closer to the level of the interpersonal. There are limits, of course, to what can be left to the local or the state level. But we have centralized too much, he argues, and as a result we have come to think of our national politics as a fight to the death.
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