The greatest disparity that I perceive between what is currently happening in the political realm in America and my beliefs as a person committed to the Christian faith is conflicting views as to the meaning and exercise of “power.” It appears to me that the view of power that pervades the political realm is that […]
Author Archive for: respectfulconversation
About Harold Heie
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Entries by Harold Heie
On October 30, 2020, my life was turned upside down when a doctor told me that a colonoscopy revealed that I had stage 3 rectal cancer. My treatment for this cancer over the past seven months has been challenging, to put it mildly. It started with a combination of radiation and 24/7 chemotherapy by means […]
In the face-to-face conversation that I hosted involving four supporters of president Trump and four non-supporters, reported on extensively below, I insisted on politeness, characterized by a willingness to listen, without interruption, to the viewpoint of a person who disagrees with you and the reasons he or she has for holding to that contrary perspective.
My eight conversation partners (CPs) did well in practicing politeness. But, as our conversation proceeded, I came away with the impression that a number of our CPs were practicing what I call “weak listening.” They were being polite, but they had no intention of re-examining their own beliefs in light of the contrary beliefs expressed by others. They were patient and polite in listening to the contrary beliefs of others, but their mindset sometimes was to “get that over with” so that they could express and advocate for their beliefs.
Liz Cheney has been the recipient of much wrath from the Trumpism wing of the Republican party when she courageously asserted that “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning the democratic system.”
Before elaborating on the significance of this bold statement, let me emphatically assert my agreement with the assertion that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump is indeed a “big lie.” There is absolutely no credible evidence of significant voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election. All claims to such fraudulence have been rejected by members of the judiciary. This makes me thankful that America’s Founding Fathers had the wisdom to establish a tripartite system of governance, with appropriate checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, intended to prevent a president, like Donald Trump, committed to establishing autocratic rule by the Executive branch, from establishing such autocratic rule.
Relative to the current struggle for the soul of the Republican party, one political pundit said that the Trumpian vision for that future form of Republicanism “prefers to unite behind a lie [That the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump] rather than stay divided over truth.”
Saving my rejection of building a future Republicanism on a lie for my next Musing, I will now argue for my belief that “being divided over truth” is an inevitable aspect of our humanity that should be acknowledged and embraced and should be the starting point for respectful political discourse.
The fact that we are divided about the nature of truth about any given public policy issue reflects the fact that as finite and fallible human beings our beliefs about that issue are deeply informed by the particularities of our differing social locations, such as our gender, our socio-economic status, our sexual orientation and our life-stories. So, it is an inevitable aspect of the human condition that we often disagree about the truth regarding any public policy issue.
Social media is replete with recriminations from citizens on the right side of the political spectrum as to the “far left” political agenda. Not to be outdone, those on the left side of the political spectrum bemoan the “far right” political agenda.
Such recriminations only serve to eliminate the possibility of a genuine respectful conversation about disagreements because of their generality. What, exactly are the “far left” or “far right” agendas? Genuine respectful conversations about disagreements will be possible only if those on either side of the political spectrum stop talking in generalities and begin talking about specific public policy issues. In what follows, I will attempt to outline the contours of a potential respectful conversation about public policy issues that focus on the problem of poverty, being careful to introduce the voices of those who are actually experiencing severe poverty; thereby introducing the need to exercise empathy (putting yourself in the other person’s shoes) when embarking on such a conversation.
All of us take the position that what we believe about a given issue (in politics and every other area of public discourse) is true, and we are prepared to give our reasons for taking that position.
But what many of us are slow to acknowledge is that our believing that our position on a given issue is true is deeply informed by what scholars call “the particularities of our social location.” In plain English, this means that what we believe is true about a given issue is deeply informed by “who we are.”
For example, our beliefs are deeply informed by our gender, our socio-economic status, our sexual orientation, and a lifetime of experiences that comprise our personal biography; all elements of our “personal stories.” It is because our personal stories differ that we may hold to differing beliefs about the issue at hand. My personal story may help me to see and understand things that you miss because of your differing personal story, and, similarly, your personal story may help you to see and understand things that I miss because I am not you.
I never tire of saying that you cannot predict beforehand he results of a respectful conversation. This truth makes a charade of calls for international diplomacy that stipulate up-front what the results of that diplomacy must be. It also helps to clarify that the elusive word “bipartisanship” needs to be viewed as a process and not an end result. I will illustrate by considering the current debate as to whether President Biden is being bipartisan in his attempt to get Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.
As I have argued elsewhere, the unyielding pre-condition for a respectful conversation to take place is that the conversation partners embrace that rare combination of “commitment” and “openness” that combines a willingness to express one’s beliefs about the contentious issue at hand with clarity and deep conviction at the same time that one is willing to listen carefully to the contrary beliefs of conversation partners and the reasons they have for holding to those contrary beliefs and a willingness to re-examine one’s own beliefs in light of this careful listening; which could lead (but doesn’t have to lead) to changing one’s beliefs.
America’s Founding Fathers had the wisdom to set up checks and balances between the three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial. This balance of powers has served our country well over most of our history. But it came under severe assault under the presidency of Donald Trump; who made decisions as if he has unlimited power to do as he pleases to satisfy his own self-interests. At the same time, with few exceptions, a hyper-partisanship has flourished in the halls of Congress that has led to legislative gridlock. The result has been a frontal attack on the checks and balances needed to maintain a robust democracy that would have been fatal to the American Democratic experiment had it not been for the courageous public service of members of the judiciary; from both sides sides of the political aisle, who would not cave into the autocratic commitments of President Trump. Their meticulous commitment to the state and local laws governing election returns revealed the nonsense of President Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud. Although they were true to their callings as public servants without seeking applause, they are heroes who deserve our applause.
But this victory for democracy has a deeper dimension upon which we need to focus. It points to the possibility of a return to a way of doing politics that is centered on building unity rather than creating self-serving divisions.
I believe it is fair to judge that President Trump’s way of doing politics focused on creating divisions. Consider, for example, President Trump’s approach to NOT addressing the rampant racial inequities in America. From the earliest days of his presidency when he declared that there were “good people on both sides” of the protests in Charlottesville, he has played to the fears of white Americans that people of people of color will erode their white privilege, thus creating unbridgeable divisions between white Americans and Americans of color. In the process of doing so, he has created a stark asymmetry between how differing groups of Americans view constitutionally permitted protests over racial inequalities: The protests on those in the “Black Lives Matter” movement are viewed by a significant group of Americans as inciters of violence, while another significant group of Americans view those who oppose the elements of the “Black Lives Matter” movement as “peaceful protestors,” with the result that nothing is done to address existing rampant racial inequalities,
This Musing will appear as an Addendum in a book I have written that will be published by Cascade Books in the Spring of 2021. Therefore, you will find references to various chapters in that book, which is tentatively titled “Let’s Talk: Bridging Divisive Lines Though Inclusive Respectful Conversations.”
I wrote this concluding addendum to my book shortly after the Associated Press declared that Joe Biden has defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. I am assuming that the courts will not find sufficient merit in the lawsuits being filed in various states by Trump’s lawyers to overturn this result
In the reflections that follow, I will first explain why I am pleased with this election result. I will then present my vision for the future of America, starting with the presidency of Joe Biden. A critical distinction that will inform all of my reflections is between the “ends” one hopes to accomplish through the political process (the goals of one’s political agenda) and the political “means” one uses to seek to accomplish one’s desired ends. For reasons that will eventually become apparent, I start with the issue of “means.”
Following Jesus: Perspectives from Diverse Christian Traditions
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