The other day I visited a long-time friend, and together we lamented the state of political discourse today.
Steve and I have known each other since somewhere around 1992, give or take. We met through Saskatchewan Youth Parliament and ever since then, we have probably been on the opposite sides of every debate and discussion. That goes all the way back to sitting in the legislative chambers each year at Christmas time, debating nuclear power or euthanasia. Today, we might talk about 3.5 per cent imposed wage cuts. But no matter what, we’ve always had interesting, respectful and thought-provoking discussions.
He may have a full-time job, but he’s largely given his life to politics. He’s one of those people who isn’t at the front, but he makes things happen, and has done that sort of work his whole life. You could correctly call him an apparatchik.
I never fail to learn something from him in any of these talks or emails. His perspective is usually diametrically opposed to mine, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. In fact, I don’t know if he’s ever been really wrong about any of our topics, he just has a different perspective.
Indeed, Steve is probably one of the smartest and wisest people I know. Never bet against him on forecasting election poll results. You’ll lose.
It seems the world is sorely lacking in Steve-Brian relationships. All the civility in our political discourse today is gone.
The polarization today seems more extreme than ever. As Steve noted, it seems impossible for most people to have a discussion with someone from the other side anymore.
Name any issue, and there is no middle, moderate ground.
Look at what happened with the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Now, sexual assault is no laughing matter. But the politics around the nomination, before there were even any allegations, shows how polarized the United States have become.
Maine Senator Susan Collins gave a cogent speech in the Senate explaining how she would vote for Kavanaugh; one that was run, without interruption, live on CBC News Channel. In it she made the case of one is innocent until proven guilty – something that most people would take as foundational in a liberal democracy. Immediately opponents were calling for her head and raising funds.
Did anyone notice that every vote in the Senate is equal, yet the confirmation came down to only a few votes? Why? Why isn’t every vote a possible swing vote? Why should the weight of the world fall on the shoulders of just a few senators? It’s because the rest are so polarized, the world knows their positions are a given.
Indeed, the rise of Donald Trump came precisely as a backlash to the politics of the left. Want to start an argument south of 49? Wear a Make America Great Again hat all day.
Some issues never go away, and never get resolved. Take the abortion debate. In Canada, it’s a festering wound that has never healed, although almost all politicians try to ignore it. In the United States, it was a key concern in the Supreme Court nomination.
The gun debate keeps getting amplified with each mass shooting in the United States. Canada, fortunately, has been largely spared the carnage, but our liberal left seems hell bent on eliminating firearms from society, period. Even though we have incredibly strict gun laws that some people could at least think forms some sort of middle ground — shooters still get to shoot, but have to jump through hoops to do so — that’s still not enough.
Conversely in the United States, there is no give from the Second Amendment faithful. The schools are full of bodies of their own dead children, and yet they do not waver.
Pipelines have become the latest polarizing subject. In the United States, there’s been an ongoing battle against the Keystone XL pipeline for a decade. It since led to the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Now I am getting emails on a weekly basis about the efforts to stop a pipeline in the eastern United States.
In all of this, and so much more, the advocates for either side of any debate shriek their opinions without ever listening to the other side. They scream to the world on Twitter, but never hear reason back. The mouths are open, but the ears are closed. They don’t allow room for moderates. You’re either with us, or against us.
I think the people of the world need to learn how to have more discussions over coffee with their own Steve. We’d be much better off.
— Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.