Demagogues and Discussions: Oh My!


Photo: Gage Skidmore

Not being able to vote this election day is like watching a three alarm fire with a cup of water. As youth, we are sidelined in political decisions. Since we were in middle school civics class, we have been taught that voting is one of the few ways we can influence politics at city hall, the State House, and Washington.

A vote is a voice, and without it, it seems we are speechless. But, are we really? Rather, a vote is not our voice, in fact our voice is. Often times, we forget that the things we say can be more powerful than a vote.

The Bill of Rights guarantees free speech, but at this point in our democracy, we need to do one better. In order for us to succeed, there needs to be a meaningful dialogue. And while this needs to happen at the highest levels of our government, we need citizens engaging as well.

On the national level of this election, there are two sides who have been increasingly toxic towards each other. Both sides throw insults without any policy discussion. However, these candidates and their supporters often fail to realize that this election will eventually end. Only one can be the winner, and at this point, we do not know who it is.

I am not asking you to take sides in the election. Rather, I challenge you to do something much more difficult. In an environment that is so focused on personalities, this country needs real debates on policy among its citizens.

And a debate doesn’t mean standing in an echo chamber. As a society, citizens should actively be seeking out discussion with others who disagree with them on issues such as abortion, immigration, and health care. Furthermore, both sides should be struggling to empathize and understand positions other than their own.  Instead of dismissing one’s position as ‘too open’ and the another’s as ‘too exclusive,’ we must get behind why people feel this way.

This country has been so closed off in its political discussion because we have been taught that certain topics are taboo. And to be honest, who can blame us? Abortion, gay marriage and gun violence are not topics for the dinner table or for a night out but they should be. As a society, we need to figure out a way to talk for real.   

Demagogues emerge because of tabooed discussions.   Silence breeds ignorance and weakness.  When citizens are unable to have thoughtful discussions with people that disagree with them, they become narrow minded in their way of thinking. This allows them to be taken advantage of in our political system

Tensions can only get higher until November 8th, and it is hard to believe they will go back down afterward. No matter the results of the election, the strength of our democracy is going to be tested.  In order for our government to move out of gridlock, and our democracy to prosper, there needs to be real talk by real people: us.