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Our Shrill Nation Has Lost Ability to Debate

Our Shrill Nation Has Lost Ability to Debate
People watch the first presidential debate - Sept. 29, 2020 - Washington, D.C. Americans across the country tuned in to the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden held in Cleveland, Ohio. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

By Thursday, 01 October 2020 04:56 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The first presidential debate of 2020 marked the culmination of the growing inability of our nation’s leaders — and indeed its citizens — to conduct reasoned and respectful debates about public matters. The concept of disagreeing without being disagreeable is out the window, and with it our long history of polite public discourse.

I love debating. I grew up in a household in which everything was debated.

I was captain of my high school and college debate teams.

I won moot court competitions in law school. I debated William J. Buckley on television.

I won a series of debates on intelligence Square.

Recently however, I have found it increasingly difficult to find debating partners.

I used to debate Jeffrey Toobin on CNN. But then CNN banned me, because they were apparently dissatisfied with the outcomes of our debates. The same is true of MSNBC.

I used to write op-eds for The New York Times.

No more, because virtually all of their op-eds are one sided and predictable.

I was not surprised, therefore, at the first presidential debate. It did not break new ground; it was simply an inevitable culmination of a movement over the years away from reasoned and respectful dialogue.

When I came to Harvard in 1964 to begin teaching, debates were common on the campus.

I participated in many of them.

Today, there are few if any real debates on many college campuses. In their place, there are demonstrations, shouting matches, accusations, cancellations and bumper stickers.

Instead of providing opposing points of view to "politically correct" positions, universities are providing psychological counselling to those who are frightened when exposed to contrary views.

Thus, they want safe spaces for their ideas, while denying their opponents even the opportunity to express differing views.

This is the world in which the recent presidential debate took place.

Why should anyone be surprised at the absence of civility, respect for opposing views and the need for real dialogue?

That’s not the world we live in today, and that’s not the world our children and grandchildren will live in if what is occurring on university campuses today continues to move into the mainstream.

We see the same kind of abusive personal attacks now in judicial confirmation hearings, especially for Supreme Court justices. No sooner did the president nominate a controversial judge — Amy Coney Barrett — than a Boston university professor attacked her for adopting two Black children, suggesting that she might have been motivated by colonialists or white supremacist’s ideas.

I am sure his views will be widely praised on campuses, despite their cruelty and ignorance. When Justice Brett Kavanaugh was nominated, the attack on him focused on conduct he was accused of engaging in, but veraciously denied, when he was a high school teenager.

We can expect even worse in future confirmation hearings.

It may well be true that President Trump has set a poor example in his choice of words in attacking enemies, but he's simply replicating the tone and style of much of what passes today as dialogue on college campuses, social media, and even mainstream television and radio.

We are a shrill nation, more interested in making points than making sense. We do not respect our opponents right respond to their arguments on their merits or demerits ; instead we insult them, demean them, attack their motives and accuse them of racism, sexism, homophobia and every other ism under the sun. We saw that in the presidential debate and it did not surprise me.

There is much to criticize in the substance of that particular debate, but that is not the point of this article, which is about how the debate was conducted , rather that what was said — and not said.

It will only get worse, regardless of who is elected president, because it began, especially on university campuses and in the media, well before President Trump entered the oval office , and because and it will continue after he leaves whether this January or four years hence. It has become part of our culture, and cultures don’t change with elections. The problem is deeper than anyone person and more pervasive than any one debate.

Americans don’t trust anyone. They distrust politicians, the media and now even the Supreme Court. There are no more Walter Cronkite’s Eli Wiesel’s or other principled leaders who everyone respects, regardless of party, race or identity. Hatred is rampant. Intolerance is the norm. Next comes violence. It is inevitable when political opponents are dehumanized. We must change this culture today if we are to leave our children a better tomorrow.

Follow Alan Dershowitz on Twitter: @AlanDersh

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Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of "Guilt by Accusation" and "The Case Against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump." Read Alan Dershowtiz's Reports More Here.

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We are a shrill nation. We do not respect our opponents right respond to their arguments on their merits or demerits; instead we insult them, demean them, attack their motives and accuse them.
cnn, harvard, msnbc, toobin
Thursday, 01 October 2020 04:56 AM
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