The Dangers of Staying Silent

by Travis Boyd

Politics is rarely discussed with family and friends. It is treated as a rule of proper conversation. People receive information in a private manner through their computer or TV. The private way people consume politics leads to an echo chamber of them searching only for what they want to see. The New Yorker reports that “one in three Americans declines to discuss politics except in private; fewer than one in four ever talk with someone with whom they disagree politically.”

Public discourse has been degraded to the point where people choose not to be part of it.

Public discourse of politics and democracy is low because of the state of our discussions. People with differing views often live in two completely separate worlds, and this creates real divides on policy issues that define modern politics. Let’s use the minimum wage as an example. Left leaning think tanks and politicians speak to the benefits that the workers would receive in increased wages and the subsequent effect on the economy. Those on the right speak to the extra costs it places on businesses. Both are right, but both only offer half of the story. Putting both sides together is complex and hard to fully comprehend. It is difficult to do because policy is never just a right or wrong answer.

Interests of both people and politicians clash against each other. Policy experts diving into the weeds will never find a perfect solution. It is in the interest of popular media sources like cable news to focus on the narrative of the political races and scandals instead of policy because they get more views that way. People only get a one sided cursory glance of public policy problems. As a result, discussions cannot progress further because people lack a basic understanding of issues.

The solutions to controversial issues in politics, whatever they may be, need to be found with an understanding of all of the facts.

There is a lack of centrist debates in American Democracy today. Punditry is usually sharply at an angle to the left or right. Pundits only say things that back up what political views they have. As a result, key information gets omitted.  

There have been attempts to publicly explore both sides of an issue through debate in media, like the television show “Crossfire,” which aired from 1982-2014. The goal of the show was to bring both sides of an issue to the table and discuss them, but public policy is unbelievably complex.  Shows built to entertain instead of educate will not bring any of the needed detail to the forefront that is essential in comprehending the complexity of public policy and its surrounding issues. It only brings vitriolic insults and platitudes. The loss of public discourse damages American democracy, and toxicity of public discourse leads to people avoiding politics altogether.

Every issue has reasonable sides, but they remain unknown if no one is willing to discuss them in depth.

If an issue were incredibly simple, then we would have already found a solution. This may explain why issues like immigration reform seem to be in every election we have. It is understandable to empathize with immigrants who are trying to find a home, as the left tends to do. It also makes sense to enforce immigration policies as they are, as the right tends to advocate. Gridlock occurs in this situation because both sides disagree. Nothing is passed and the problem remains unsolved. Sides have been chosen, and the likelihood of bridging the gap effectively is low. 

Not everyone speaks about what they believe politically because of the ridicule that may come their way. Instead of closely investigating the opposition’s argument, people tend to dismiss those they disagree with and label them as ignorant or ill-informed. Watching certain channels or reading a limited amount of sources leads to a slanted view of politics. Watch and read what you know you will disagree with. Talk openly with your peers and loved ones, even if you know they may disagree with your views. Once you understand both sides, they might not seem as far away as you think.

Travis Boyd is a first-year student at Trinity University pursuing a degree in Political Science. He is on the Trinity debate team, and he volunteers to help coach high school debate teams. He enjoys reading and listening to podcasts.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no institutional positions on matters of policy or opinion.

The image above was created by Andrea Acevedo, Art Director of The Contemporary.

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