The United States today is in a strange place, and I assume the same goes for other countries to some extent or another. Public discussions, especially political discussions, have become increasingly combative.
I think part of this is due to the detached, anonymous nature of discussing things on the internet — we are so detached from the effects our words have on others that we tend more to write in derogatory and combative ways — more so than we’d typically do in an in-person or even telephone conversation with the same people about the same things.
In the US, I think these types of “flame wars” have also increased due to conscious (as well as unconscious) decisions by Republican leaders and media to attack Democrats and certain “outsiders” for political gain — not just debating ideas and policies, but actually demonizing individuals and groups of people. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen from the Democratic side of the aisle as well! But it seems to have been a carefully developed strategy back in the days of Nixon and Reagan, and heightened to a great extent since the turn of the century and, to a tremendous extent, since Obama was first running for president.
As just two examples (of so many):
1) Presidents make a large number of “executive nominations” that Congress typically just signs off on. In 2013, it was found that Congress (dominated by Republicans) had blocked more of these nominations under Obama than in the entire history of the United States combined. Seriously. Somehow, Congress decided to block 79 of Obama’s nominations up until late 2013 (I’m not sure what the count is now), while only 68 nominations had been blocked by Congress from 1949 till Obama took office, and very few had been blocked before 1949.
2) Mitch McConnell, GOP Senate minority leader at the beginning of Obama’s presidency and now Senate majority leader, infamously stated that the #1 political objective of the Republican party should be to make Obama a one-term president. No, the #1 aim was not to help the country come out of one of its worst economic downturns in history. No, it wasn’t to grow jobs and work with Obama and other Democrats to help improve quality of life in the United States. The goal was to make Obama a failure, which essentially meant hurting the country and blaming it on Obama. We have seen this aim put into action for nearly 8 years.
With these things in mind, let’s be honest with ourselves: The ongoing aim of GOP political elites for several years has been to demolish the character of individuals “on the other side” (never mind that we share a country and a world), especially Obama, and to divide the country. It’s not pure magic that led to Donald Trump becoming the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party. He has taken this style of politics to its logical conclusion — which is to attack the character and goodwill of everyone and anyone who opposes his ideas. It was quite effective against a party that has supported that kind of politics for years or decades, even as Trump turned it back onto the party and his Republican colleagues to a shocking degree. We’ll see how effective it is in the general election.
But the point isn’t to keep the criticisms going in a never-ending word war. The point is to try to figure out how we can proceed in order to move the nation in a more positive, collaborative direction.
CleanTechnica, relatively speaking, is a small site with rather moderate influence. But we do have some influence, and we are eager to use that for positive political progress. We try to keep discussions in the comments civil, and we encourage people to approach debates in a university-style way — as intellectual discussions that don’t get unnecessarily emotional and combative, and don’t resort to counterproductive name-calling and ad hominem attacks.
But let’s be frank: most media outlets don’t attempt to shape the conversation like this at all. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, reddit, and other networks are basically agnostic to the topic as well. Head to trending discussions in many of these places and you are practically guaranteed to land in an intense war of name-calling and ad hominem attacks. So, how can we reign in the flame wars and try to move political discourse into a more collaborative, positive direction?
Unfortunately, this is not a solutions article. This is a question I am posing to the smart and considerate readers we have here.
Of course, we can each try to do our part, but that can only be part of the solution. I think we also need to create and promote some systemic solutions. I just don’t know what those would be.
(Why is this on CleanTechnica? Because we believe sharing of important information and subsequent, useful discussions about that information are important to the advancement of society, including when it comes to electricity, transportation, and other technology discussions relevant to this site’s focus.)
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