A year ahead of election, breathe deeply

The big 2020 elections are just about a year away – Nov. 3. That’s 12 long months. Let’s all take a deep breath for a moment.

Now, let’s look at five strategies to get through this election cycle without destroying our democracy.

First, remember that you can disagree with someone about a political topic without hating them. Remember when “civil discourse” was actual discourse – a conversation – and people remained civil? It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

Recently, talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres got pushback from her fans for sitting side-by-side with George W. Bush at a Cowboys-Packers football game in Texas. “Here’s the thing. I’m friends with George Bush,” she said on her TV show. “In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have.” The former president reportedly said he appreciates what DeGeneres said and that they respect each other.

I have friends on social media who post things from a variety of viewpoints – sometimes all I see in a news feed is one political screed after another. If I happen to hold another point of view, I don’t “unfriend” the person. There probably are a lot of other things I like about that person for us to have connected in the first place. We should be able to tolerate different points of view without attacking each other.

Second, does everything have to be either blue or red? Catholic social teaching does not fit into such neat categories. Some stances held by the church are shared with Republicans and some with Democrats. Why can’t some things be purple? If the Democrats really care about the most vulnerable in society – the elderly, immigrants fleeing strife in central America, those affected by gun violence – shouldn’t they also care for the unborn? If Republicans really value the sanctity and dignity of all life – from unborn babies to those facing terminal illnesses – shouldn’t they also care about living wages and providing a safety net for the poor?

The infighting within parties is even worse. When you have a dozen people running for the Democratic presidential nomination, each is tempted to take potshots at his or her opponents. But once the primaries are over and a candidate is nominated, those attacks become fodder for the Republicans to use against them. It would be lovely to think that candidates would only promote their own stands on issues, rather than attack other candidates; it would also be naïve. These days, no one is going to win with an all-positive campaign, and we are all much poorer for that.

Third, it’s a cheap shot and a false stereotype to say that politicians are only in it for money, power and personal advancement. Despite the documented cases of two recent Baltimore mayors taking advantage of the system, we believe that those who seek elected office generally desire to serve the public and make the world a better place. From city and county council members to members of the General Assembly and statewide and federal offices, a lot of good people serve in government.

Fourth, as you prepare for the elections, do your homework. Don’t become isolated by the media you watch, read or hear. If you consume only news and information that agrees with your point of view, your mind won’t ever be open. If the “friends” on your social media feed all think like you do, what can you learn?

Fifth, remember, there are verifiable facts in the news; just because you disagree with something in the news doesn’t make it “fake.” And journalists are not the enemy. There may be some bad apples (as in public service), but the great majority are well intentioned people who seek to inform and enlighten.

A new initiative from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops aims for “dignity beyond the debate. A new website for “Civilize It” notes: “A divided country. Fights at the dinner table. Political vitriol. What does it mean to love our neighbors in the midst of such a climate?”

The site asks people to pledge civility, clarity and compassion. These are exactly the concepts we need. It’s going to be 12 long months before this election. Take a deep breath and clear your head every now and then.

For more on the “Civilize It” campaign, click here

Christopher Gunty

Christopher Gunty

A Chicago-area native, Christopher Gunty is associate publisher/editor of The Catholic Review and CEO of its parent publishing company, The Cathedral Foundation/CR Media.

He has spent his whole professional career in Catholic journalism as a writer, photographer, editor, circulation manager and associate publisher. He spent four years with The Chicago Catholic; 19 years as founding editor and associate publisher of The Catholic Sun in Phoenix, Ariz.; and six years at The Florida Catholic. In July 2009, he came to Baltimore to lead The Cathedral Foundation.

Chris served as president of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada from 1996 to 1998, and has traveled extensively learning about and reporting on the work of the church, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Haiti, Poland, Italy, Germany and finally in 2010 visited the Holy Land for the first time.