Home Politics Right vs Left: Is Civil Discourse Possible?

Right vs Left: Is Civil Discourse Possible?

As June ran out I received this brief text, bolded below, from a politically conservative friend of mine:

Best Pride Month Ever:

  • Prayer protected
  • Filibuster protected
  • Gun rights protected
  • Federalism protected
  • Unborn lives protected

These are familiar conservative talking points, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I thought I’d calmly reflect on these issues, point by point. On the other hand, maybe I’ll start a fire. We’ll see.

Mourners gather at the U.S. Supreme Court on September 18, 2020 after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Photograph courtesy of Ben J via Wikimedia Commons.

Prayer protected

Well, yes, maybe. But it might depend on who you’re praying to. Or more precisely, who you are praying in front of. The Supreme Court ruled it’s judiciously cool for a white conservative Christian coach to kneel ostentatiously in prayer in the middle of a football field after a game on school grounds, gathering as many like souls together as he, and they, wish.

Do you think non-Christian players feel any peer pressure to conform to this religious ritual, especially in a majority Christian community? Could there be anything coercive about this?

I wonder how the Justices would have ruled if the coach was a Muslim who chose to engage in Islamic prayer on the field with his players, prayer rugs and all, bowing to Mecca? Is that particular prayer on public school property protected by the Court ruling? Do I want my Christian son exposed to this? And oy vey, shall we protect a Jewish coach who conducts a prayer of gratitude to God for his blessings, on the field, along with his players? Maybe a Buddhist meditation, all in the lotus position, quietly chanting on the sidelines? (Buddhists aren’t especially demonstrative, after all.)

Does the Supreme Court ruling really protect “prayer” in America? I wonder…

Actor James Stewart performs the cinema’s most famous filibuster in Frank Capra’s 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Character actor Claude Rains on left. Photograph courtesy of Columbia Picture’s archive.

Filibuster protected

Again, yes, but… The filibuster? Seriously? No one likes the filibuster. It’s not mentioned in the constitution and it wasn’t part of the Founding Fathers’ vision of the U.S. Senate. It is, in fact, according to most congressional experts, the single worst feature of Senate procedure. It came into being as a result of an unfortunate accident of history due to an obscure Senate rule based on an 18th Century English law regarding parliamentary discourse. It allowed a member to speak on the floor without limitations, and it is now used exclusively to delay or block a vote by the opposite party.

There is nothing sacred, traditional, or “American” about the filibuster. If you’re a democrat or republican in the majority in the Senate, you hate the filibuster. It messes with your ability to pass legislation, to perform the will of the people. If you’re in the minority, and you want to assert powers far beyond any granted to you by the constitution, you cling to it like a life raft on the Titanic! Our system is based on “majority rule,” not “Super majority rule.”

I would think we’ve all had enough of folks obstructing a legislative assembly, whether they accomplish it through the filibuster, or by insurrection.

Self-described Proud Boys member was arrested after pointing a revolver at a crowd of protesters in Portland, Oregon. Photograph courtesy of Everytown.

Gun rights protected

Yes indeed, the more protection the better! Right? But oh my goodness! Be careful what you wish for, America. White nationalists and mentally unstable teenagers open-carrying handguns and military grade assault weapons where you shop, eat and play? How lovely, and how very Second Amendment-y. Most folks fighting hard for unrestricted gun rights did not anticipate that these very rights would apply equally to the teeming mobs of unruly minorities and unwelcome immigrants that they are so afraid of and believe they need to protect themselves from! Moreover, what about the public health and safety of all of us, our First Amendment rights and freedoms to peacefully assemble and to speak without fear of violence? I’m sure the Founding Fathers would be delighted to see children today slinging assault weapons over their shoulders as they head to the mall.

This isn’t exactly what James Madison intended when he proposed “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There was no standing American army at that time so State militias were essentially the national defense. Hence, the Second Amendment. Tell me, who needs this well-regulated militia now?

A significant majority of American gun owners across the political spectrum, from the Left to the Right, are very much in favor of the “well-regulated” part, and support extensive background checks on gun purchasers, raising the age for gun purchases to 21, and enforcing red flag laws.

Shouldn’t we all?

Federalist Alexander Hamilton advocated for a completely new government under the United States Constitution. Along with James Madison and John Jay, he rejected the Articles of Confederation as a weak governing document that needed to be fully replaced. Photograph of painting eminent domain.

Federalism protected

Federalism? OK, I hear you. Big HUH? What the hell is federalism? And who cares? Good point. Well, I care. That’s all I’ve got. Here’s one definition:

Federalism is a mixed or compound mode of government that combines a general government (the central or “federal” government) with regional governments (provincial, state, territorial, etc.) in a single political system, dividing the powers between the two.

This is essentially our American government. So I have a question. Who is protecting federalism, and from what? Is federalism under siege? Are federalists being attacked in the streets like racial minorities, or in their workplaces, like Congress people? Maybe it’s the Federalist Society, as usual, feeling victimized?

The Federalist Society makes its case for an originalist interpretation of the constitution, and there is, in fact, disagreement with that idea. This means adhering to the constitution precisely as the federalists believe our Founders intended exactly at the time they wrote the document. There is opposition to that idea inasmuch as many others in fact believe it goes against the Founding Fathers intention that in order to survive and remain relevant the constitution must grow and evolve and change with the times. There is healthy debate between originalism and living constitutionalism, but that argument has almost nothing to do with federalism, particularly as it was originally articulated.

Federalism simply maintains that the “middle ground”, as James Madison conceived it, provide equal power and responsibilities to the central, or “federal” government, and to the states, or the “people.” From the outset theory and practice frequently collided. There has always been robust conflict between federal and state government legal jurisdiction and we have plenty of lawyers available to keep those battles going on forever. There’s money in them thar bills! More importantly, we live in a democratic republic and it’s a messy business. Our challenge, as citizens and voters, is not to let our country slide into authoritarianism.

Our fragile republic has teetered on the edge many times throughout history, as it does now. The protections enshrined in our constitution might find challenges in the arms of federalists, but they would flail hopelessly under authoritarian rule, and they would not survive totalitarianism. Let’s not go down this path.

Anti-abortion protestors in front of the U.S. Supreme Court with Red Llfe tape over their mouths.  Also referred to as pro-life movements, where members advocate against the practice of abortion and its legality, and, in some instances, including victims of rape, incest, pedolphilia and women with serious life-ending health issues. Photograph courtesy of Cyberkuhn (talk) via Wikimedia Commons.

Unborn lives protected

OK. Watch out here. Yes, the Supreme Court tossed out the constitutionally protected rights of women to make their own reproductive choices. This is a deeply sensitive issue, controversial, even violently so, and with little apparent opportunity for compromise. I always supported the position that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. But I am only prepared to make that argument medically, and morally, not religiously. I believe a woman has a right to choose what she does with and to her own body, especially a pregnant 10-year old rape victim.

Of course, for many people, this is not the point.

We come to the issue of “unborn lives.” This is a very charged phrase, and it is a powerfully effective way to frame the issue from the religious standpoint. I do not question the genuine beliefs and passions of those who righteously choose the religious argument, those who actually know and care what they’re talking about when they invoke the “sanctity of life.” No one on either side of the issue will ever win the argument over whether or not a fetus at any particular stage of development is an actual life possessing equal, or even more rights, than the woman carrying it.

My simple, and not particularly original thought, is to suggest we all follow our own beliefs, our own consciences, our own adherence to religion or science on this issue. That we pray with compassion for the moral outcomes of each and every decision a woman and her family make about terminating a pregnancy. And let’s not bully anyone, by laws or coercion, into making a life-altering decision, for better or worse, a decision whether or not to have that baby.

The Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol Building from the vantage point of the Iwo Jima Memorial. The photograph was taken on April 17, 2004 “when the air was particularly still and clear.” by by Donald H Burke.

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One Comment

  1. Neal

    July 21, 2022 at 8:23 am

    You talk about discourse but you have not responded to my feedback regarding your article about “Insurrection.”

    Are you truly interested in an honest conversation or, like many so-called objective thinkers, you just want to spread your ideas and not listen to others?



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