By: Caroline Martin
Political polarization is a drastic problem in this country. Several weeks ago, it became a crisis.
Ellen DeGeneres was spotted laughing with former President George W. Bush at a Dallas Cowboys game. Twitter took to criticize her association with a conservative Republican. DeGeneres addressed the concern and defended her friendship with Bush on the Ellen Show. You can watch her response below (or at this link).
The monologue blew up the media world. Many came to Ellen’s defense and praised her for advocating kindness at a time when the political world is anything but. But a significant portion of liberals have vehemently demonized Ellen’s remarks, demanding they are an attempt to silence the LGBTQ+ community and others. I respect everyone’s constitutional right to free speech, but I also reserve my right to criticize those who perpetuate a fundamentally problematic mentality.
This is a critical time in American history, as we’ve witnessed an ardent shift in polarization. The rhetoric surrounding politics today is problematic on both sides of the aisle. Civil discourse is not a popular concept. The general public perpetuates demonizing images of the political party to which they do not belong. Social media echo chambers thrive in a dangerous way. Conservatives and Liberals alike are violently opposed to those who hold different beliefs and exercise a blatant refusal to engage with them. Disagreement has escalated to a vicious rage. This cannot, and is not, a productive way to affect change. The political institutions of government cannot effectively operate with this level of partisanship. But it’s gone beyond the political world, personal relationships are torn apart. Friends, coworkers and family members are isolating each other. Whatever you believe, there should be a general consensus that this cannot continue.
Understanding this context adds an entirely new level of depth to Ellen’s remarks. It’s time to make an active effort to bridge the political divide and to humanize the other side. We’re forgetting that people are not their politics. There is more to a person than with which party they are registered, and there are complexities within those parties that I encourage you to understand. DeGeneres encouraged all to hold their own political beliefs but asked they be kind and treat others with respect in the process. If that is somehow controversial, then simply put, we are screwed.
How can one expect to solve this national crisis if we can’t even come to an agreement that we can disagree? The Twitterverse is currently operating in meta-debate terms that are destroying the possibility of civil discourse in the real world. You are entitled and encouraged to hold your own political beliefs, but we forget that this is a privilege that comes with the responsibility of granting the other side the same right. You can disagree but you cannot demand that people think differently, just as you would be offended if someone asked the same of you. These are the fundamental pillars of democracy. American values are rooted in our revolutionary history to introduce the concept of free speech, the notion of a country founded on productive debate. But there has to be structure. There has to be a set of courteous rules the country can abide by to make that debate effective. Otherwise, your Twitter rants fall into the abyss of anarchy. Ellen’s approach gave me hope for a less-divisive future that I can be proud of, as opposed to the current childish screaming match.
In the spirit of understanding other’s perspectives, I opted to research exactly why this video set the country off. George W. Bush’s policies on the Iraq War and his anti-LGBTQ+ stance seemed to do the trick. In response, the Iraq War was an incredibly complex foreign policy issue that involved a legion of actors beyond Bush himself. And you can disagree with Bush’s actions and his role in this national crisis if that’s your prerogative, but I urge you to do your homework and ensure your beliefs are your beliefs, not what the people around you preach or the one news source you stay up to date on. Definitely not something that your friend re-tweeted. Check out the trials of Donald Rumsfeld (If you don’t know who that is, you definitely don’t know enough to take a stance) or Colin Powell’s infamous speech to the United Nations. Whatever side of the issue you fall on, you should be able to sustain it with evidentiary support. To Bush’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues, I understand people were offended by those, as was I. Not that it’s an excuse, but understanding the political and social climate of when Bush was elected (2000) might also add another level of depth to your opinion. The country’s come a long way. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did not originally support same-sex marriage, but have since evolved their stance (Although, some criticize this was only done for political points). My point is this: do your research. Attempt to understand the complexities of political institutions and political climate before making political statements.
The attacks on Bush’s political ideologies, however, completely miss the point Ellen DeGeneres is making. In a climate of intense political polarization, it is possible to engage in civil discourse. You can and should hold your own beliefs but you should be kind and respectful to others who share different ones from you. I thought that was something we all learned in kindergarten. It’s my personal opinion that there are very few political issues or historical events that precede the concept of morality and definitively inhibit your ability to be kind. The opposition has claimed it’s imperative we talk about Bush’s policies before we talk about kindness. They’re wrong. Kindness is the first step, the framework you operate in to have an effective conversation.Before you hop on the “Ellen Sucks” bandwagon, try to understand the implications of actively denying a person’s right to hold different beliefs from you, which is at the core what this movement is doing. This will fundamentally destroy the concept of productive debate and civil discourse.
This is why Consider Magazine exists. We’re here to showcase a variety of different perspectives and encourage the public to engage in debate. But we operate within a framework of understanding and respect. Our core values have become more urgent than ever. I don’t speak for all of our Consider members when I say I stand behind Ellen DeGeneres, but I believe those who would seek to attack her friendship with George W. Bush have a fundamental misconception of their privilege and are destroying the very concept of constructive conversation. If you disagree, feel free to leave a comment. That’s what we’re about.