Dialogue with Right-Wingers? Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

“Bipartisanship,” conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist once said, “is another name for date rape.” His analogy fits comfortably with radical right-wing views, now called conservative. If they were to try to work with liberals, these conservatives continue to preach, it would be corrupting.

That must be disheartening to “moderates” who really want to believe that sitting down in discussion with those who disagree is one of the few hopes for civilization. And liberals have bent over backwards to work along side right-wing exteremists and struggled to bring conservatives into discussions.

Some take any conservative consideration of more moderate positions as a sign of legitimacy. And they work really hard to see that right-wing views are included.

This desire to believe in the power of dialogue, conversation, and working together is a desperate one. Should moderates have to face the idea that times changed back in the Newt Gingrich era so that putting all ones eggs into the dialogue basket is futile, they’d probably fall into depression, denial, and hopelessness.

The times, however, have changed whether we like it or not. As Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright, Tony Kushner observed: "What used to be called liberal is now called radical, what used to be called radical is now called insane, what used to be called reactionary is now called moderate, and what used to be called insane is now called solid conservative thinking."

Right-wing leaders have become a stubbornly immovable force. Since Gingrich, they’re politically so uninterested in collegiality and compromise that they turned Congress into a hostile club uninterested in dissenting viewpoints. Any hint of resistance through filibusters were countered with threats of a "nuclear option" and accusations of treason and collusion with terrorism.

They’re used to right-wing religious leaders sanctifying the existence of polarity and partisanship in God’s name. The Dobsons, Robertsons, Grahams and Falwells paint anyone who disagrees as satanic, evil, intentionally destructive enemies whose only hope would be full embrace, without compromise, of their sectarian religious standards.

Merely making room for consideration of disagreement is evidence that one is on the side of the enemies of Truth. Right-wing Focus on the Family boss James Dobson, for example, back in a 1996 condemned “tolerance” as: “kind of a watchword of those who reject the concepts of right and wrong…. It’s kind of a desensitization to evil of all varieties.”

Their followers range from those who have too much at stake in these uncompromisingly either/or, us/them fortresses to consider change, to those who aren’t sure whether there’s even a place for other viewpoints. Conservative media continualluy reinforces for them that all thinking is in black and white.

Waking up to the fact that in many cases we’re no longer ready for dialogue means that moderates and liberals have things that need to be done before dialogue can take place. Yet doing what it will take to prepare for dialogue often seems not to be in liberal genes.

It’s not that there isn’t a moveable middle for whom dialogue could seem sensible. That middle is probably the largest group of people in the US.

It’s just that the middle must still to be convinced that there’s a real dialogue to be had. The right-wing perfected the technique of bombarding people with the idea that there’s only one sane position.

“Liberals,” “leftists,” “socialists,” and even moderates have nothing worthwhile to say. Their positions, the right-wing teaches, are not worth considering.

Those who think dialogue alone will save us sstill haven’t faced the fact that they first need to gain a hearing for their own beliefs. They’re still surprised when right-wing debaters don’t respect them enough to give them a chance.

Right-wing representatives shut them out, shout them down, fabricate data, butt in, name-call, and do everything else that to liberals doesn’t seem like the actions of nice ladies and gentlemen.

There was a day when such bullying tactics were seen for what they are – absence of evidence, logic, or credibility in the user. They turned off outside observers as actions of someone who just isn’t nice enough to be respected.

Today, however, these uncivil techniques are seen -- outside aghast liberals --as proof that the right-winger has conviction. In a nation where many are on the verge of exploding with deep-seated, poorly-focused anger, even angry outbursts gain respect. They touch the emotions.

Polite, deferent, unemotional liberals, in contrast, appear too caught up in their manners (“civility”) to care about the issue at hand. They come across as so privileged that they can look down upon anyone for whom these issues matter on a gut level.

That means a desperation to compromise and find common ground are no longer first options in the broader debate. Dialogue, trialogue, or other give-and-take processes can only take place effectively once the view one holds has established itself in people’s minds as worthy of consideration, as a valued option, as something to even notice.

Convincing people that there are other passionately held positions doesn’t require repetition of the offensive tactics of the right-wing. It calls for assertiveness and, at least, the appearance of sustained conviction and passion.

It means, actually, that we must not appear too quick to compromise.

It means that we must first learn to argue effectively for what we believe. It requires actions that convince others we really do believe in what we believe and that we are passionately convinced that what we believe is true and effective.

It means the end of looking wishy-washy in any way.

People need to see evidence of conviction. They want to know that we believe as much as what we believe.

They need time to be convinced that progressive views are respectable again. They need to sit for awhile with the sense that what progressives believe is uncompromising and that we passionately disagree with the right-wing.

Then they’ll be ready to become a working part of a gathering of people who want representatives of all viable views to sit down around the table and work something out for the sake of the community. They’ll see that there is an advantage to consideration of more than one viewpoint.

© 2019 Robert N. Minor

Other Issues, Books, Resources

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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org


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