I have to say that I have mixed feeling about missing the debate this week between the ten (considered) front-runners for the Republican presidential candidacy. On the one hand, I would have been interested to see/hear how they answered the moderator's questions, as well as how they responded to one another. On the other hand, I had few expectations that I would learn anything useful, and feared that the spectacle would turn bizarre -- as it apparently did in some instances.
The various reactions on social media were fairly predictable, given which of my "friends" were commenting on the debate. Most of my friends on the left side of the political spectrum bemoaned the negative overall tone of the evening. Those on the right didn't deny it, and seemed to revel in it. From the news reporting I saw or heard in papers and on broadcast media the following day, it would appear that my friends' assessment was fairly accurate. One of them distilled the debate into: "Anti-xxxxxx; No-yyyyyyy; Opposed to-zzzzzz." It would seem that the debate was simply following the now-normal pattern of political discourse: point out the bad, heighten anxieties, provoke fear, and lay it all at the feet of one's opponents (inside, or outside, one's political party).
I couldn't help thinking about an article I read some months back about the language often employed those who wish to protect the environment. The article was entitled, "Saving the world should be based on promise not fear." In short, the author, George Monbiot, suggested, based on research, that focusing on real or perceived threats makes people anxious and likely to, mentally, put up their dukes or disengage: "It's an issue taken up in a report by several green groups called Common Cause for Nature. 'Provoking feelings of threat, fear or loss may successfully raise the profile of an issue,' but 'these feelings may leave people feeling helpless and increasingly demotivated, or even inclined to actively avoid the issue'. People respond to feelings of insecurity 'by attempting to exert control elsewhere, or retreating into materialistic comforts'".
The opposite, however, is equally true: "Surveys across 60 countries show that most people consistently hold concern for others, tolerance, kindness and thinking for themselves to be more important than wealth, image and power. But those whose voices are loudest belong to a small minority with the opposite set of values. And often, idiotically, we have sought to appease them." Monbiot doesn't believe we should avoid talking about the threats; they're real. But, he concludes: "[W]e should embed both the awareness of these threats and their scientific description in a different framework: one that emphasises the joy and awe to be found in the marvels at risk; one that proposes a better world, rather than (if we work really hard for it), just a slightly-less-[crappy]-one-than-there-would-otherwise-have-been."
I can only wonder how our political process would be different if those who hold (or seek) office would focus on how we might build a better, more just, economy/society instead of pointing fingers at each other and casting blame (and calling names). Or, in religious terms, fear of hell (or a bad reincarnation) may be a motivator for some to get "saved" or to "behave themselves", but does it increase compassion and openness and hope.
I'd much rather see the latter as the desired outcome in all of our debates.