The object of a game of chess is to vanquish one's opponent. To do so, both players strategize each piece's trajectory to eventually lock the opponent's king in a checkmate, and thus win the game. However, there's a certain danger in attempting to checkmate the opponent in the realm of politics.
The beauty of America is that there is no checkmate. We might play chess with politics and with social questions, but there is never an absolute winner.
So why do we speak to one another as though we'll eventually get to checkmate? The problem is particularly acute in our political discourse, as both Republicans and Democrats try to vanquish each other, using rhetoric, negative advertisements and ad hominem arguments as pawns in an effort to catch the opponent in a misstep. During this election season, we would do well to think about what kind of discourse we want to define our nation.
Of the many factors that tempt us to lock the other political party in checkmate, our concern over revenues stands at the forefront. The media will undoubtedly profit from reframing the issues in order to cater to their target audiences, making the political game of chess more about a certain political party winning and less about how Americans can collaborate to discuss issues civilly and to improve the national climate.
The focus on the economic aspect of politics and the competitive spirit that drives each side to 'win' jeopardizes what makes this country special: the art of dialogue. Dialogue can only be productive if each side of a debate considers the other a worthy opponent. Through dialogue, each side can give, take and eventually compromise to find the best solution considering all parties involved.
This is the same point that John Dewey, the great philosopher of democracy, makes in The Public and Its Problems. Dewey emphasizes that the local community is necessary for people to gather to discuss opinions and debate positions to fuel democracy. Furthermore, Dewey contends that the communication that occurs in these local communities leads to a successful democracy: "Without such communication the public will remain shadowy and formless... Till the Great Society is converted into a Great Community, the Public will remain in eclipse. Communication can alone create a great community."
Ironically, the increased number of communication channels has only decreased the type of communication Dewey credits as the foundation of a "great community." Since the switch to the 24-hour news stations, there is more money to be made from highlighting the hype from drama to fill the news-hole than from reporting the issues as they occur. Oftentimes, the drama surrounding the issues leads liberals or conservatives to discredit the other group. Liberals try to write conservatives off as close-minded and uneducated while conservatives try to write liberals off as unreligious. This strategy automatically discounts the other group's ideas as unworthy of consideration and renders further debate useless, which only serves to dismantle the principles upon which America thrives.
Consider the response to recent coverage of North Carolina's decision to pass Amendment One, which proposed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. In a comment to a local article, one reader discredited conservatives in North Carolina with the sweeping conclusion, "A sad day for equality in N.C. Maybe this will wake up people who are too busy to vote... our state is in danger of becoming just another red state backwater, full of uneducated bigots, proud and confident in their ignorance and hate."
On the other side of the aisle, a commentator on an ABC News article suggested that those who opposed North Carolina's Amendment One ultimately went against God's will: "The world has changed, sadly. Just because the world has changed doesn't mean we should forget God's Word or God himself. The world has changed, but that doesn't mean we have to turn away from Christianity."
Many liberals are religious, and many conservatives are great thinkers. Are there some who identify with each category who have accepted their opinions based on others around them? Absolutely. Yet there are also those who have researched, debated and looked to history and their experiences to shape their beliefs and political positions. Both sides should be encouraged and valued, not degraded by conclusions and assumptions drawn from media headlines suggesting otherwise.
Citizens' political leanings are shaped by their personal experiences, education, upbringing and beliefs. All of these variables are significant when considering how to handle the issues facing America today -- gay marriage, abortion, even taxes. America is the land of the free, and we should focus on discovering how to mold the laws so that each person's freedoms are maximized while ensuring that another person's freedoms are not infringed upon.
Sharing perspectives, which involves listening, provides a foundation for this discovery. Both liberals and conservatives have worthy, well-thought opinions that have shaped, and will continue to shape, our past, present and future as a nation. However, degrading the opposition's intellect and stamina throws the game. In choosing to play chess with politics, in making checkmate the goal of our exchanges, we sacrifice a defining characteristic of our nation: the art of dialogue. This is a continual game of chess with gives and takes from individuals across the political spectrum. Let's aspire to preserve these democratic ideals and the sacrality of dialogue as we interact this election season.
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