Nicole Bibbins Sedaca: Debate policies, not democracy

The current political polarization in the United States has caused a dramatic reversal of what is debatable versus what is non-debatable in a democratic society. This inversion is profoundly undermining American democracy. Reclaiming what is debatable and non-debatable is an essential next step in strengthening our democracy.

We must debate public policy issues.

As a diverse and pluralistic society, the United States will always have a wide range of political and ideological views on issues such as immigration, health care, and foreign policy. That is inevitable in a country of 326 million people of various racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. We will have disagreements on important issues.

And while we will vigorously disagree with others in our country, a hallmark of our great nation — or any great democratic nation — is that we can debate those differences civilly in the public square. We must engage in these debates with civility, rigor and respect. The existence of divergent views is not a problem — the lack of civil debate to navigate through that diversity is a problem.

Rather than civil debate around public policy issues, a dangerous trend has emerged, namely the dismissal of debate with those with different views, because we conflate a difference of view with a lack of integrity or commitment to our nation. Those on the left and those on the right regularly question the patriotism, and even the very moral character, of those with whom they disagree. Too many Americans believe they are not simply arguing for their preferred policy position, but rather that they are arguing for the United States itself. This corrosive trend undermines the very foundation of a democracy.

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