When it comes to politics, it seems the days of respectfully disagreeing with each other are over. Our political climate has devolved into a bog of the most bigoted personal attacks. We no longer view our opponents as simply misguided, but as something to fear. While this trend seems to be getting worse each day, there is a way back to civility in politics. Interestingly enough, it can be found back in the earliest parts in our nation’s history. And one founding father in particular has the answers for us, Alexander Hamilton.
For a most recent example on how divisive the political landscape has gotten, look no further than the recent governor’s race in Virginia between Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie.
In the past month, both Northam and Gillespie’s campaigns ran extremely negative ads on each other. Gillespie’s campaign ran an ad showing heavily tattooed members of the gang MS-13, suggesting Northam’s position on sanctuary cities and undocumented immigrants would lead to crime waves and gang violence.
Northam’s campaign also engaged in mudslinging when they paid a political action committee to run an ad depicting a Gillespie supporter chasing and subsequently running over minority children in a pickup truck decorated with an Ed Gillespie bumper sticker, a confederate flag and a “don’t tread on me” licence plate.
“Is this what Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie mean by ‘The American Dream?’” the announcer for the ad said.
So according to both campaigns, the choice voters had in Virginia was either gangs running wild in the streets or children being run over by racist pickup trucks. Choose wisely.
Thankfully there are documents written regarding the problem of political bigotry. One of which was written by a founding father who has gotten modern recognition thanks to a certain broadway play. Alexander Hamilton was a key figure in the formation of the U.S. Constitution, the supreme law of the United States. During its formation, the Constitution was debated thoroughly during its ratification. Every word of every sentence was debated, to the point where a Supreme Court case was decided over the placement of a comma.
During the debate, Hamilton and other founding fathers wrote the Federalist Papers, a series of essays written to the American people arguing for the ratification of the Constitution. In Federalist Paper No. 1, Hamilton includes a paragraph on maintaining civility in politics. His advice was to not assume the motives of ones opponents as sinister or selfish.
“Candor will oblige us to admit that even such men (political opponents) may be actuated by upright intentions; and it cannot be doubted that much of the opposition…will spring from sources, blameless at least, if not respectable…” Hamilton wrote.
Hamilton continued this line of argument by admitting his opponents are still decent people. Hamilton stated even if he or others are convinced they are on the right side of an issue, there any many reasons why good and upright people might disagree with them.
“So numerous indeed…are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society,” Hamilton said. “This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy.”
Hamilton goes further in the following sentences. He argues bad motivations (greed, anger, bigotry, selfishness, etc.) can just as easily apply to those who argue on the “right” side of an issue as they do to those who argue the “wrong” side.
This line of argument ultimately forces the individual to actually research whatever political issue is at hand to understand their opposition, and look back at themselves to evaluate whether they believe what they believe for the right reasons. Without this self-moderation, Hamilton contends politics not only becomes more bigoted and ineffective on all sides.
“Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”
While it is true there are a small amount of extremists in our country who are most likely beyond convincing, this isn’t the case for the vast majority of politically active people in the United States. It is imperative we remind ourselves behind the majority of political opponents, there are humans who lived a different life than us and have formed their viewpoints based on their life and what they honestly believe is best for the country.
If that way of thinking was good enough during one of the most historically divisive times in our nation’s history, it’s good enough for today.