The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024

Debates on morality will be true test of political civility

In the wake of the shootings in Arizona, we began to consider the impact of political rhetoric in this country. Journalists, politicians and citizens pondered the ramifications of the semantics that constructed political rhetoric. Confident that rhetoric, while oftentimes violent and vitriolic, was not responsible for acts of violence or massacre, the conversation moved on.

Nonetheless, politicians and pundits alike seemed to arrive at a general consensus to “shake hands after a heated debate,” “set aside our differences” and “to unite as a country.” I applaud this demonstration of well-mannered politics.

However, prescribing increased civility is, in many ways, easier in this moment. We just finished an election cycle, we just inaugurated a new legislature, and our country was just rattled by an enraged shooter.

In other words, debate is not in full motion at present.

Politics as usual has just begun on Capitol Hill. Senators, governors and representative are hardly settled into their respectives offices. The country is overcoming the shock of a violent attack. We have not yet begun to sing the songs of disunity that characterize much of our country’s politics.

Thus, the only time will tell if the words are more than just opportunistic rhetoric. Indeed, these pledges and recommendations of rhetorical civility, legislative collegiality, and political non-violence will face the most telling tests in moments of severe discord. In times of moral debate, politicians will vie for their posts.

Debates on morality, particularly those concerning “social issues,” will expose the depth of our commitment to civility. These questions incite particularly bitter, caustic debate in our country. For most, words like abortion, gay marriage, death penalty, and immigration (to name a few) incite powerful emotions and opinions.

There is a reason these are not common topics of dinner conversation. It’s easier to discuss the prospect of Christian Bale winning an Oscar, Britney’s new single, or who’s going to play in Super Bowl XLV.

It is not easy to discuss who should receive government assistance, when life begins, how to define a marriage, what is the proper punishment for a crime, or who should be permitted to enter our country. These issues (along with many others) cause disagreement, frustration, anger, and at times even despair.

Despite the difficulty, we must engage in these discussions, and we must do so courteously. I do not propose a dispassionate or amoral discussion, but one that is both vibrant and respectful. As many have said throughout our nations history, we must learn to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

Notwithstanding notable examples of respectful discourse, popular precedent seems to be for the contrary, especially in the case of moral rhetoric.

Countless examples show how in the realm of morality, there is a tendency to demonize those who disagree.

While outlandish examples of this type of violent rhetoric seem most apparent, the tendency to violently target one’s ideological opponent is not unique to eccentric groups.

It’s quite mainstream and can be easily perceived throughout moral discourse involving issues of death penalty, abortion, gay rights, immigration, health care, weapon’s rights, etc.

By using biting rhetoric and calling your opponent your enemy, the issues become muddled and the individual is removed from the argument. This type of militant rhetoric forgets that each issue is not merely political. It is personal. That is, it deals directly with people and their lives. This rhetoric overlooks the central figure in each debate: the individual and his or her right to live with dignity.

Responsibility and blame belong in some part to each group, every individual, and all political entities.

However, blame serves little more than to further demonize. We must each take the responsibility we have to debate with both integrity and civility.

Do we, as a country and as individuals, have the courage to implement what we learned from Tucson? Can we discuss respectfully those values we hold most precious? Or will we resort to rhetorical violence and finger-pointing?

Drew Konow is a senior religious studies, foreign languages and literatures major. He can be reached for comments or questions at [email protected].

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