Let it begin with me

Political discourse has always been a high-contact sport played without helmets or padding. Today, it has become more like ultimate fighting with machetes and without rules or referees. Maybe there really never was a time when people considered those with different political opinions kindly as the “loyal opposition.” But these days, people who see things differently are often thought of as implacable enemies. Folks do not think that their political opposites are just mistaken. Many now think of them as demonically and irredeemably evil.

Often, folks no longer merely disagree with those who see things differently; they absolutely hate them. American political debate is way over the top on all sides and a lot of political opinions are more informed by cynicism and even hatred than by facts. Snarly and patronizing loathing has trumped mutual respect.

As we celebrate Christmas and other religious holy-days before the New Year, I urge writers and commenters to this letter section myself included to make an explicit and sustained effort at civility. I will do the same.

I suggest we all agree to: understand the underlying concerns beneath the positions of others; express our political views on specific issues in specific ways rather than in generalities; explain our opinions with supporting evidence; draw attention to the shortcomings of differing opinions on the basis of fact and logic; stop name-calling of all kinds as a substitute for reasoned debate (for example, only Hitler was Hitler); build a case first, and only then draw conclusions, not the other way around; and leave the discernment of motives up to God.

During this blessed season, we are reminded of a sentiment contained in all the great religions: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Christians are challenged by an even more demanding standard: “Love your enemies.” As the New Year approaches, I am going to try to clean up my own act. I invite readers and writers to join me. The friends I have who hold no particular religious beliefs would most assuredly affirm this resolution with a loud “Amen.” Peace.

Tim Mannello


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