The Death of Civil Debate: Why Parties and Politicos Keep You Away from Opposing Views
By Dr. David Stuckenberg, Ph.D., Founder and Chairman and David Liapis, Senior Fellow and Board Member
Knowledge is power. This axiom has been proven time and again throughout history. Knowledge – or information – is used for great good such as education and technological advancement, for building free and prosperous societies and making the future better for our progeny. However, it can also be used for evil – dis and mis-information, deception and lies – in war, by corrupt governments, by cult leaders and others who seek to abuse and use people as a means to their wicked ends.
A brief look at the history of America will show We the People arrive at our best thinking and sensible consensus on needed actions through comparative analysis or considering multivariate view points. Access to and the propagation of accurate and unbiased information is so crucial to the fabric of our nation that our Founding Fathers sought to forever protect it by writing the First Amendment. Today, however, the free exchange of ideas and information, or knowledge, is under attack.
No matter where you look, even in universities, most of the venues and opportunities for honest and respectful public debate have been cancelled or no longer exist. Worse still, our news and media outlets are unashamed of their unrelenting thirst for ratings and even their clear political bias. This is true on both sides of the aisle. Few Americans trust the media any longer, and for good reason.
According to an Oct. 7, 2021 Gallup report, Americans’ trust in media has fallen to 36 percent – the second lowest score ever recorded. The report concludes, “Just as Americans' trust in the three branches of government is faltering, so too is their confidence in the fourth estate -- the media.”
Those with ideological agendas within the media are adept at shaping how their ideas are communicated. To them, it’s important to ensure you never hear or even have an opportunity to consider opposing views or alternatives. It was much subtler in the past, but the agenda-driven “news” media have long since abandoned objectivity and impartiality and are using the free press as a weapon of the very thing it should be keeping in check – politics.
This is dangerous to our Republic.
For seven years the American Leadership & Policy Foundation has existed to create research and shape policy based on facts – not opinions or partisan talking points – for the public to consider. Our target audience is everyone because we serve all Americans. We have had the opportunity to listen to and interview young scholars applying to do research with the foundation. These scholars apply for research fellowships based on their ideas and desire to make a difference; but only about one in 30 pass the test.
What is the test and why is it so rigorous? When you approach research with ALPF you must let the facts guide you, not a predetermined view that drives you to outcomes and findings. Such bias provides little value to the public, and there’s already far too much of it out there.
A case in point was a young scholar who proposed to come study vaccines (this was prior to COVID-19). She wanted to study the harm vaccinations cause to children, and that was the problem. Had she opened herself to the idea that as a researcher she must be an interpreter of facts and data rather than a person selectively using facts and data to shape and fit an agenda, she would have passed the interview. Her topic was fine. We should ask hard questions about vaccines – and about border security, and Critical Race Theory, and the erosion of religious freedoms, and a host of other important topics. But, the central methodology in research cannot be bias-driven if we hope to unify and progress as a society.
Today, extreme bias has virtually taken over every source of information from academia to the press. For example, FOX News once had a program called Hannity and Colmes. One commentator was right leaning and the other left, sort of their way of proving FOX News was “Fair and Balanced” (a motto they dropped in June of 2017). The two men constantly debated, and it was often heated. But, viewers eventually tired of the conflict. The show was canceled and only Hannity returned with his own show that now promotes a pure right-leaning agenda. As this approach to information has become more commonplace in the media, it poses risks to a free and open society. One need only look at Ad Fontes Media’s “Media Bias Chart” to see “news reporting” has largely become “opinion pushing” instead.
Author Samuel Clemens, known as Mark Twain, noted: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” (emphasis ours) The same is true of debate and ideas.
The problem in Twain’s America was a lack of information that limited the scope of knowledge people could obtain. Today, in a hyper-connected world with immediate access to more information than we know what to do with we oddly have the same problem of people being limited in their scope of knowledge, but this time it’s artificial. It’s being limited by teachers and school boards, by reporters and pundits, by preachers and social media censors – and all with an agenda. It’s time to put open and honest debates back to front-and-center of domestic and international public discourse. We need fresh ideas. We need to hear the full range of discourse. We need accurate information.
Will we as citizens dare to demand a debate of the facts – real facts? Will we as a nation allow the free press to completely become nothing more than opinion-peddling, political lobbyists while we retreat into our echo chambers out of fear of hearing concepts and ideas that contradict or challenge our preconceived ideas and beliefs? Will we reject the honest debate and civil discourse that has defined our Nation?
We hope the answer to those questions is a resounding “No!” We must demand to hear both sides of an issue and be trusted to draw our own conclusions. We also must commit to identifying bias in our own thinking and discipline ourselves to seek out other points of view.
If we do this well, we’ll find that when we have conversations and meet people with opposing points of view, we can talk to them civilly, with respect and dignity. Why? Because we will understand them better, and we can help them understand us better. Maybe we can even learn to “agree to disagree” once again and stop acting like anyone who disagrees with us “hates” us and must be some kind of “-ist.”
Let’s hope for the sake of our future this trend catches on! Let’s re-invigorate and cultivate civil debates and demand facts, not just opinions – the very foundation of our nation depends on it.
About the Authors:
Dr. David Stuckenberg is Chairman of the American Leader & Policy Foundation. He is a veteran with 17 years in the U.S. Air Force and has been awarded multiple military commendations including the Air Medal and Aerial Achievement Medal for combat. David holds a Ph.D. in international strategy from King's College London and a masters in politics from George Washington University. He has worked at the White House, Pentagon, State Department, and led national defense and sustainability initiatives globally.
David Liapis is Senior Fellow & Board Member and former President of the American Leader & Policy Foundation. He has more than 17 years of active duty service in the U.S. Air Force and is currently an Air Force R.O.T.C. Assistant Professor of Aerospace Studies at Central Washington University. David holds a Master’s in Christian Ministry and a B.S. in Management from Wayland Baptist University and has served as a communications advisor to senior U.S. Space Command leadership and multiple commanders in the U.S. Air and Space Force.
The opinions expressed by the authors are theirs alone and do not represent the views of the U.S. government or Central Washington University.