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Chip Hill


Politics is, of course, one of those subjects like religion that should be avoided in discussions in polite society. That is because our response to the subject is usually to choose a side on an issue instead of having a reasoned discussion of pros and cons. However, since we tend to identify with “teams” in pretty much everything we do in life, politics is not so different. The difference, it seems to me, is that almost everyone has an interest in politics because of the effect on their lives, as opposed to a sports team, for example, where fewer passionate followers would make the same claim.

It seems that political differences that are bitter and even ugly have also been around for a long time. But the trend toward more ugly and less civil appears steady, due, I believe, to many of the societal aspects I discuss in some of my other Thoughts. And a primary driver in countries like the U.S. is a two-party system instead of multiple parties. In a two-party system, we don’t need to spend significant thought on tertiary party ideas: the “enemy” is clear. An opposing party also offers the luxury of not having to reason out our own beliefs when we can simply take an opposing position to what the other party believes. This last point is the worst part of the present political situation, in my opinion, and in the most need of correction.

In 2017, I made suggestions to several news outlets, both print and TV, that the use of party labels was stifling meaningful political discussion. Elected officials are always presented with their party label (D) or (R) as a suffix. What if elected officials were introduced as “Senator Jones” instead of “Republican Senator Jones,” or Congressman Smith instead of “Democratic Congressman Smith”?  The party label could still appear on news stories if appropriate, but the individual labels would disappear. Would our elected officials respond differently in interviews if they were not defending the “brand,” i.e., their party?  Would we the viewers focus more on the un-labeled content, or subconsciously apply our own labels?  I suppose also critically reviewing other descriptors like “Mr. Jones, who is white” would be a step too far (too cynical?). But the D/R recommendation could be a small, first step toward discourse strengthened by listening to the other person, or thinking about the news content, without the requisite pre-judging and throwing up filters.

I modestly suggest that the favorable response to this suggestion would provide an immeasurable positive benefit. And “un-labeled” political communication could hopefully inch us toward becoming a less contentious political nation. But I am also realistic enough to know that the media builds viewer interest and its ratings by focusing on and highlighting disagreement and argument. So, the media outlets’ response to my suggestion was…? wait for it… wait for it… crickets. Oh well, I’ll pass this along to a future Observationist.