Partisanship After Parkland

Critical thinking, understanding, and compromise has been pushed aside in favor of emotionally-charged, unproductive argument and closed-mindedness in the wake of trauma and unrest.


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Teens for Gun Reform, a student group in the Washington D.C. area, demonstrates in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas high school shooting

Tragedies such as the Parkland school shooting don’t just affect their community. They don’t just affect their state. They affect everyone in this country. Their effects ripple into spheres far beyond the tragedy itself. And these tragedies seem to happen more and more often as time goes by.

Shootings like these kick up a lot of dust in Washington D.C.. Not an instant of grieving goes by before someone uses the occasion as fodder for their arguments and agendas. This time was no different, with the left rushing to take advantage of the fear and outrage over these cold-blooded murders, redirecting it into fear and outrage against guns, and the right playing the victim and preaching messages of persecution against the Second Amendment in order to reaffirm gun rights support and gather more funding for the NRA.

Don’t get me wrong. We need to enact change in our legislation to reduce the amount of domestic terrorism. But we as a nation are making a critical mistake as we try to do this.

Critical thinking, understanding, and compromise have been pushed aside in favor of emotionally-charged, unproductive argument and closed-mindedness in the wake of trauma and unrest. Mixing this kind of societal climate with lawmaking and partisanship never produces an effective bill, let alone one that passes.

Let me give you an example

During the CNN town hall meeting addressing the shooting, the father of a victim, Fred Guttenberg, was given the opportunity to speak with senator Marco Rubio. He began by saying:

“Senator Rubio, I just listened to your opening and thank you. I want to like you. Here’s the problem. And, I’m a brutally honest person, so I’m just going to say it up front.”

Okay. You’ve managed to shift the discussion away from the policies and toward the people behind the policies. Way to start a productive discussion.

“When I like you, you know it, and when I’m pissed at you, you know it. Your comments this week, and those of our president, have been pathetically weak.”

Yes, you’ve lost a daughter. Yes, this isn’t fair and is horrible and should never have happened, but politics is not furthered by your invective. I’m not a father, let alone one who has lost a daughter, and I’m sure I’d be just as furious over this tragedy. However, unrefined anger won’t get us anywhere. Widening the fissure between the sides in this argument is not smart, and bills that have any chance of passing are not written by a completely polarized Congress.

“So, you and I are now eye to eye. Because I want to like you. Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in this school this week. And, look at me and tell me you accept it, and you will work with us to do something about guns.”

Pretending that restricting the types of firearms the public can own is the only solution to this vastly complex issue is frankly narrow-minded. This also feels a lot like an attempt to either put words into senator Rubio’s mouth or force him to take a black-and-white stance on a grey issue that validates the narrow-sighted argument of anti-gun groups.

Here’s the fun part. Senator Rubio says these exact words:

“Fred, first of all, let me explain what I said this week and I’ll repeat it. I’ll repeat what I said. And, then I’m going to tell you what we’re going to do.”

And then the entire crowd boos him.

Explain to me how it is in any way rational, civilized, or productive to boo a man for attempting to explain himself after someone tries to force him to say something he doesn’t believe. What happened at this exact moment is a microcosm of the current political climate in American Politics on both sides: drowning out the arguments of one’s opposition by covering your ears and shouting, “la la la, I can’t hear you.”

The left pushes for the protection of a free Internet, more stringent environmental protection, and a crackdown on federal government corruption? Just shout “Hillary emails” or “fake news” or something along those lines and you’ve won. The right wants to reform our immigration system and bring back domestic manufacturing? Just shout “Impeach Trump” or “The Patriarchy” and you’ve won. Only consume news media from sources that exclusively tell you what you want to hear and nothing that would dare contradict your ideology. Teach your children that it’s us versus them. Vilify the opposition to help you sleep better at night so your brain doesn’t have to think too hard.

I’m not going to sit here and regurgitate my opinion on gun control— you can find it here. What I will say is this: we as a nation have two options in the world of federal lawmaking. We can compromise, or we can do nothing. And there are two reasons we must compromise to do anything productive. Speaking practically, our partisan congress will never even let a bill reach the floor for debate unless it has enough compromise to satisfy the values of both the left and the right. And why should they? Why should a Republican or Democrat majority give a bill with nothing in it for their party a chance to become law.

We must also recognize that our ideologies and perspectives are limited, and that the answers we may think we have to problems are likely limited in their scope of impact. This is why democracy is beautiful: it forces cross-talk between people with different perspectives. But this is what our society is trying so desperately to beat to death. If millions of people oppose your viewpoint on an issue, what’s more likely? Those millions of people are completely wrong and you’re completely right? Or that maybe they see the issue from a different angle, and their concerns are just as valid as yours?

We must also recognize that our ideologies and perspectives are limited, and that the answers we may think we have to problems are likely limited in their scope of impact.”

— Jake Nipper

It’s beyond easy to forget or ignore these realities during periods of grief, unrest, and tragedy. It feels good to cheaply discredit those that oppose you and surround yourself in an echo chamber that enables and validates you. It makes life easier; it makes thinking easier. But it’s about the most counterproductive thing you can do for yourself and your nation, and the nation can’t handle any more counter productivity.

So how do we stop this? The answer is shockingly simple. It may not be easy, but it is simple.

We as a society, and you as a citizen, have an obligation to our fellow brothers and sisters in this nation to inform ourselves on issues. And this does not mean putting yourself in an echo chamber by only reading, watching, or listening to sources and “experts” that parrot your own beliefs back to you with no factual evidence. This may sound otherworldly to some, but people that don’t always agree with you are not automatically evil. In fact, try talking to one of them. You may be surprised by how much you actually agree with them. Play devil’s advocate and tune into a Ben Shapiro podcast if you’re on the left; read some CNN if you’re on the right. The worst thing that can happen is you waste half an hour of your time a few days a week. But there’s a much greater chance that you’ll learn something or gain unique insight on an issue.

Or, you could cover your ears and scream to drown out what you don’t want to hear. Just don’t expect that kind of behavior to stop school shootings.