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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

The Loyal Opposition

Readers of this blog know that I seldom offer commentary that could be construed as political in nature. It is not because I lack interest or viewpoint, but it is far from my chosen topics: love, relationships and our higher selves. I am prompted this once to depart from my self-imposed limit to take up a subject which has been on my mind for some time now.

Do not expect a political screed from me, however, nor a partisan rant. Rather, I am prompted by a deluge of commentary from journalists (who should know better), ordinary citizens and of course politicians themselves that have crossed the line of disagreement into the realm of denouncement.

Like many of you, I mourn the lack of civility in public life. But I think the source of our grief is the degree to which it has become acceptable to demonize those who hold an opposing view. The concept of a loyal opposition no longer exists for all practical purposes. I have long admired the conduct of a political system that celebrated vigorous debate and acknowledged a wide range of differing views without diminishing those who held contrary opinions. Today, among political leaders at all levels of our government, in religion, and other areas of life where people are likely to hold divergent views the right to dissent is no longer a given. To disagree is to be disloyal.

It would be bad enough if it stopped there, but the invective quickly moves beyond questions of patriotism and faith. The truly sinister progression moves with blinding speed to the very essence of the problem; the labelling of those who hold differing viewpoints in words that diminish their essential humanity. I say sinister because this practice is the first step down a very dark path indeed. Once we see others in that light, as less than human, less than ourselves, it becomes so much easier to justify intolerable behavior. We do not need social science experiments to verify this, we’ve seen it in our own lifetimes again and again. We can trace every human ill to this seed and yet our moral outrage is largely unspoken.

I have asked myself how this is possible, especially among people who consider themselves to be right minded. Surely, they must see the contradiction. But honesty prompts me to point out that I am guilty. I am guilty when I harbor such thoughts, even a little, and even if I do not express them openly. I am guilty when I stand by and fail to speak out against such behavior. I am guilty when I find excuses for what cannot be excused.

To be clear, I am not suggesting we cease dissent, far from it. I encourage debate, disagreement and opposition in the interest of arriving at a better understanding of the issues which confront us. I am suggesting that we defend with every power at our disposal those with whom we disagree, and never place in question their loyalty or fitness as human beings. Yes, I am aware that there are individuals that harbor a pathology of violence. They thrive in our divisive times, gaining license for their opinions and actions from our silence. Call them out. But let us not grow intolerant of those who want the same things we want, however much we may disagree about how to achieve them.

We’ve grown casual in our acceptance of the labels that are so liberally applied these days. When did the idea of liberalism become synonymous with faithless, disloyal, profligate and naïve? When did conservativism equate to racist, heartless, intolerant and rigid? These words and much worse are the currency of disrespect applied daily to those who believe in a different path to the freedom, decency and prosperity, we profess to hold sacred. Isn’t it time to resist?

Perhaps you think I am being hopelessly naïve. It cannot possibly be that simple. Hold ourselves accountable for our thoughts and our words, spoken and unsaid. Defend the loyal opposition. Speak up when its warranted and remain silent and listen with respect to those who disagree. Prove that we can exchange views without resorting to verbal bullying or intemperate attempts to diminish those whose opinions diverge from our own. How many of us would it take before it became unacceptable to continue the practice of disparagement?

The only way to find out is to just begin.

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