Surviving a skirmish in our uncivil war

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

I was recently relaxing at a resort with family members when a skirmish broke out in our country's "uncivil war." As I read the New York Times, the overhead light began to flicker. I asked what was up with the light and someone suggested it was because I was reading "fake news."

He might have meant it as a joke, but I didn't take it that way. "At least it's fair and balanced," I fired back. This retort didn't sit well with him. "That was condescending." By now I was so fired up, I stopped reading and confronted him. Keep in mind this is a man I admire and respect. I knew he was a staunch Trump supporter, but we had never exchanged harsh words before.

I told him how hurtful the term "fake news" is to a newspaper man. I often get it thrown in my face when I introduce myself as a reporter. I described how hard we work at the newspaper to be accurate. I also said that discrediting the media is very dangerous for our country. 

He said he didn't mean the Review was "fake news" but that other media outlets made up stories. He singled out CNN as broadcasting "fake news." I have never watched that network, so I had no comment. 

Then he talked about the discrimination he felt toward white males and how he experienced this while growing up in a predominantly black community. Now, as a Republican living in a Democratic stronghold, he feels that same alienation when he tells people he voted for Trump.

We must all tiptoe around the "T word" lest we turn off family, friends, or worse, clients. I finally understood where he was coming from and why he thought the media distorted the news for political reasons. 

We ended up talking for an hour, calmly and reasonably. I admitted to having some reservations about Democrats leading up to the 2016 election. I felt that the party emphasized inclusiveness, without offering ideas.  

For his part, he admitted that the president is an instigator, who doubles down when he's attacked. By the end, we laughed and agreed that neither one of us knew what we were talking about when it comes to tariffs.  

I thought our talk was instructive and showed that we could be poles apart politically and still have a healthy exchange of ideas. I think our country needs this now more than ever. We can't control presidential policies or pronouncements, but we can control our own behavior. 

Resorting to rudeness is infecting our whole society. It's contaminating every aspect of daily life. Studies by organizational scientists show that incivility on the part of our leaders has a major influence on the rank-and-file. It's now infecting our local politics, which were already divisive. 

I propose that we hold a forum where a panel of Trump supporters and Trump critics take part in a calm discussion about our differences. There would be ground rules. No raised voices, interruptions, or insults. I know several Trump supporters in town who are sensible and even-tempered. I trust there are Trump critics who are equally respectful. 

John Rice, who grew up in Oak Park, writes a column for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.

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