By Mike Sigler
I was invited to a relationship building forum last week where Democrats and Republicans got together, talked between themselves and then to the other “side.” It was put on by Better Angels, a group whose goal is to lower the temperature of the debate in the country and maybe find common ground.
The first exercise was for the Democrats and Republicans to separate and list five things they think the other side sees them as. For the Democrats, they believed the Republicans see Democrats as not loyal Americans, enabling dependency, antagonistic toward Christian family values, taking away people’s guns, and not caring about small town America.
For Republicans, we felt Democrats see us as racist, uncompassionate and favoring the rich/disliking the poor, anti-women’s rights, anti-government, and anti-science/anti-environment.
I may get differing opinions on some or all of these from both sides, but this is what I saw. We didn’t get to respond to how the other side saw themselves except for me blurting out that I didn’t see Democrats as not “loyal.” That’s a strong word with a lot of history behind it. I did say I saw more embarrassment about America, more of a sense of shame about our history from the Left than I do from the Right.
This also played into the self-actualization part of the discussion. I said that we Republicans do sometimes soft-pedal history and fail to recognize how different people see our history in different ways. It plays into how we believe Democrats see us as racist. We tend to look at the now more than at the past. True, we remind people that we are the party of Lincoln and that civil rights wouldn’t have passed without overwhelming Republican support in the face of Democratic opposition from the likes of George Wallace, but while that history is something to be proud of, there’s a history that the black community sees that leads them to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and my party needs to explore that.
The Democrats there were good at seeing the conflict between dependency and guns between the two parties, but I did want to say that Republicans are not against a social safety net, but rather want accountability. The idea that a healthy person should be dependent on government in perpetuity is not something Republicans want for America.
As for Christian values, I don’t expect Americans to be Christian — but we are a Western culture and I would hope we all would agree we share the American values of freedom, fairness, and opportunity. This also plays into the Democrats’ belief we don’t think they care about small towns. I don’t see why they wouldn’t, but I see at least in my town an attempt to tear down companies and industries, for instance, that helped build the town.
Some of the Republican takes on themselves provided for good discussion. While Republicans believe it’s often portrayed that Democrats want unrestricted abortion and if you don’t, as Republicans don’t, then you’re anti-woman, we discovered at least from the Democrats there, that they support restrictions, at least on when an abortion can be performed.
I can safely say that Republicans are not anti-science. As it came out, we are against politicized science. We see that when a peer-reviewed study comes out that disputes a narrative, those supporting the narrative ignore it or say it’s part of political or corporate corruption. This happens with vaccines, oil and gas exploration, solar capacities, nutrition guidelines, the list goes on. Science evolves as discoveries are made and we need to be open to the narrative/theory changing as new developments happen.
As for being anti-government, I can safely say we’re not, but shouldn’t we question the size of government? We all, Democrats and Republicans, at the forum, thought questioning that point is valid even though we probably disagree on where it should shrink.
One suggestion that stood out for me was how language was essential going forward; to think about persuading instead of winning. There are words that are hot buttons for the other side and close off discussion. We know what they are and let’s face it, sometimes we just want to fight. I’d rather fight for my values and I don’t think triggering the other side gets us where we want to be. I’d rather save that for values questions.
In the end, it just seemed we were not as far apart as you’d believe watching cable news. I brought up at the end that there are some areas we simply won’t be able to agree on, but what’s wrong with that. I don’t expect everyone to agree, nor do I want that. The acceptance that your side could be wrong would go a long way to taking down the temperature, but in lieu of that, just making a better argument would suffice.
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Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler, a Republican, represents the Town of Lansing.