Friday, March 17, 2017

A Contentious Politics Discussion

When our political roundtable panelists and I took the stage in The Commonwealth Club’s main auditorium, my main sense was one of relief that the day’s warm temperatures had not made the room too hot. But as we got into our discussion of recent political issues, things got heated nonetheless—first with the audience, where some folks apparently thought they were attending a GOP congressman’s town hall—then even between our normally reserved panelists.

You can see the entire program in the video above.

What caused the emotions to run so high and hot? It’s not that anyone said anything particularly outrageous or at all insulting; this was not Milo Yiannopoulos criticizing his cultural enemies. Someone saying, for example, that they don’t think Russia’s a big threat might be something you or I disagree with, but it doesn’t rise to the level of requiring a shouted response. But it happened, more than once, in what is usually a civil and even fun and intelligent discussion of recent politics.

Why did it happen? It’s certainly in the zeitgeist: people are agitated and angry about decisions being made in Washington, and depending on the side of an issue one is on, it leaves many people feeling either empowered or self-righteous or scared or some other feeling, any of which seem to give people permission to take a leave of their usual good manners.

What do you think? Does free speech entail allowing people you disagree with speak? What are the borders to that free speech? And what are the borders to civil back-and-forth?