Melanie McDonagh

Insulting people who think differently from you isn’t the way to engage people

Insulting people who think differently from you isn't the way to engage people
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There were two items on BBC radio this morning which rather summed up the Corporation thinking about the State of the World. One was a brief but telling discussion on the Broadcasting House programme as to whether our political discussion now is getting to the point where we can’t actually air differences at all;  that, after Brexit and the Trump election, we are so utterly divided ideologically that common ground is impossible to find. It was an interesting conversation between Catherine Mayer, the co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, and Iain Martin, who, while a Brexiteer, is also opposed to Trump.

Fine, except that it was preceded by the secular Thought for the Day Sunday essay, A Point of View, by Adam Gopnik, an American who epitomised precisely the worldview of those who think that, post-Trump, the hour of darkness has arrived, that liberal, enlightenment values are under siege, that there comes a point in politics where the right minded have to take a stand at the barricades (I suppose social media is the equivalent): for instance, it might just about be ok to subcontract abortion policies to the states but absolutely unacceptable to jeopardise Roe v Wade.

Now, it’s fine for a commentator to comment: a Point of View is, as the name suggests, A Point of View. But it’ll be interesting to see whether an equal and opposite Point of View gets aired in coming weeks, whether it occurs to anyone that this is not the default view of right-minded people but a partisan view by a partisan combatant. I’d quite like to hear someone from Breitbart, for instance, or the conservative philosopher and lawyer, John Finnis. Or someone from the Bernie Sanders camp on the really radical options to address the problem of money in US politics. Maybe they have been given equal space, and I’ve just missed them.

This spectacle of liberals drawing their garments closely about their persons to avoid contamination from the deplorables is, of course, evident in spades across the Atlantic. I was rather revolted, myself, at the behaviour by the cast and audience at Hamilton – history as Broadway musical – dissing the Vice-President-elect Pence when he appeared to see the play. It’s going to be that bit less likely, isn’t it, that he, or any other prominent member of the administration will go to plays or concerts that may challenge their world view, that may expose them to people and ideas other than their own. I think the Hamilton lot should have been delighted to have had him in the audience, to get the benefit for the message of the play. Instead, they’ve indicated that their kind of theatre is for their kind of people. And then they’ll complain when the administration isn’t receptive to their ideas. But insulting people because they a) have the temerity to think differently from you and b) because they’ve won and you’ve lost isn’t the way to engage people.

But then I may be mistaken in thinking that this is the object of the exercise.