Yelling ≠ debate

I’ve seen a lot of news lately about Republican senators and representatives having town hall meetings, where a ton of liberal activists show up, and interrupt, and chant, and jeer, and boo, and shout a lot of questions, and seemingly don’t listen very carefully to the answers, and generally shut down the broader discussion.

Not all cases are like this. Many times there’s a tense but reasonably civil back-and-forth dialogue. Right now, though, I’m talking about the jeering-and-interrupting kind.

Because virtually every reaction I’ve heard from the left — from Democratic leaders all the way down to liberal dudes and ladies on social media — has been strongly approving. They love this tactic, it seems. I I don’t think I’ve heard a single person on the left condemn it.

Speaking as a liberal activist myself: What the hell?

Of course people on both sides of the political spectrum can and should go to town halls, whether they agree with the representative or not. Of course they should speak up, ask pointed questions, call out lies, demand accountability. Of course there should be a debate, or at least an attempt at one.

But in many cases, that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is that somebody comes out to talk to constituents and gets yelled at for a while, and the actual conversation gets lost in the noise.

How is this helpful, exactly?

If you want to yell, by all means, yell. That’s what protests are for. Use your outside voices — outside. Or if you want to protest inside the town hall, do it in a non-disruptive way — wear shirts with slogans on them, hold up signs, whatever. You can make yourself heard, and you should. There are a thousand ways to do it. First Amendment’s still in effect, as near as I can tell.

But trying to shout down the other side just makes you look stupid.

If a kindergartner tried to win an argument by shouting down another kid, you’d tell them that that’s not how we do things. So why are adults getting a free pass?

A lot of Republicans have stopped having town halls altogether, and people get upset. “Why aren’t you going out to face your constituents?” Well, y’know, probably ’cause they don’t want to get yelled at for an hour? It’s their job to face criticism. It’s not their job to stand in front of a microphone and listen to screaming.

The only real defense I’ve heard for this tactic is that when Obama was president, Tea Party activists did it to liberal politicians.

Guys. If our standard for wisdom is “stuff Tea Party activists have done,” we’re in sad shape.

I think what frustrates me most about these yell-ins is how blatantly partisan they are. People seem to love it when it’s their side doing the yelling, but once it’s the other side, suddenly the shouters are disrupting the democratic process. In other words, it’s not about logic, it’s about which team you’re on. Your team does it, great. Other team does it, it’s terrible.

That kind of my-team-your-team mentality has been going on for the length and breadth of recorded history, but Trump has elevated it to levels I’ve never seen before, at least not from a U.S. president. He doesn’t care about thinking correctly, or even getting the facts right. He just wants to win, no matter the damage that his “winning” may inflict on America’s institutions, democratic processes, or people.

I reject that mentality. I hope you do, too. I don’t just want my team to “win” — I want us to be right, and to do the right thing.

Because to me, that’s largely what winning is.

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3 responses to “Yelling ≠ debate

  1. Doesn’t help that the entire US system is built around an almost indestructible Republican-Democrat binary; it’s almost designed to prevent nuanced discussion of individual issues on their merits.

    A general dislike of large-group shoutiness is one of the reasons why I don’t include marches and such in my portfolio of civic acts, so it irks me when the reasoned debate we do get is drowned.

    • Not only is there an indestructible Republican-Democrat binary, but our third parties aren’t great either, IMO. So I can’t even be like “If only people would listen to the Green Party and/or Libertarian Party!” It would broaden the dialogue, which is good, sure, but it still doesn’t make me terribly hopeful.

      Speaking of large-group shoutiness — as a UK resident, what are your thoughts on having a Parliament system where everyone can talk over and interrupt everyone else? As an outsider, I always found that bizarre, but maybe there’s a method to the madness.

      • Most debates aren’t like the monkeys on meth they televise, so it’s not so big an issue as it seems. And the Speaker of the House does have power to intervene if the bickering is going on too long.

        However, it’s not ideal. The difficulty with limiting interruptions is the risk of either granting a power to guillotine legitimate points or introducing the filibuster. So, I’m not certain how I’d change it.

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