Our Democracy Hinges on Civil Disagreement

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

I’m trying like hell to refrain from reading the tragic storylines surrounding the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting.

From the heroic 20-year-old intern who saved Giffords’ life to the nine-year-old girl, born on 9/11 and infatuated by politics, killed in the crossfire, there’s plenty of pathos to go around. All of the stories lead to the same conclusion: Something went terribly wrong and it can never happen again.

It’s hard to know how to experience these violent tragedies anymore, and I’ve seen plenty in my lifetime — Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9/11, Virginia Tech. Some have had longer lasting repercussions while others have become just another haunting chapter in our country’s history. Shortly after such an event, there’s a call for change, but rarely is there significant followthrough.

Yesterday, I hopped aboard the change-the-tone bandwagon, because I believe the political discourse in this country has lowered itself to “I’m right, you’re evil.” We’re caught up in a contemptuous time for American politics, and it’s not because we can’t agree or we can’t compromise, but we can’t even properly disagree. “I’m right, you’re evil.” Is that really the best we can do?

Unliked others, I doubt this is a watershed moment for American politics. Sure, politicians and pundits will tread softly the next few months, but the issues and disagreements in our country remain the same. It’s only a matter of time before we’re back to bickering, though with a more sensitive hold on vocabulary. And you know what? Argument is fine, so long as it’s respectful. At its best, a democracy is a constant struggle to make one another better through the challenging and representation of our ideas and our ideals.

At it’s worst, it’s bloodshed. It’s “I’m right, you’re evil.” It’s a total lack of civility, prudence and open-mindedness.

It’s Jared Loughner.

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