Mr. Kavanaugh, Dr. Ford, and the Death of Dialogue

Friday, September 28, 2018
Pasadena, California

Mr. Kavanaugh, Dr. Ford, and the Death of Dialogue

Fears of a constitutional crisis, worries the Supreme Court will lean too far right, and concerns over the plight of sexual assault victims deserve urgent attention. Meanwhile, another dangerous problem, trembling like an active fault line, lurks beneath these issues:

The rapidly vanishing role of civil dialogue.

Limiting this discussion to just the past few days, consider these facts:

  1. The “hearing” yesterday, deeply upsetting to millions around the world, resolved nothing. No real investigation of the allegation occurred. Instead, Dr. Ford told her story; Mr. Kavanaugh told his. Multiple other sources of information, ranging from the Safeway personnel records to the testimony of Mark Judge, were unavailable, reducing the entire scene yesterday to two disconnected monologues.
  2. Earlier, Kevin de León, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s November opponent, accused her of “gross misconduct” for retaining the information from Dr. Ford. Feinstein withheld information because Dr. Ford hesitated to be publicly identified. Instead of a deliberate review of the situation, de Leon shouts “misconduct” and adds “failure of leadership.” Feinstein reacts by detailing de Leon’s failure to deal with sexual harassment in Sacramento. In this situation as well, no fruitful dialogue occurred—just name calling.
  3. Just this morning, Sens. Blumenthal, Hirono, Harris, and Whitehouse, walked out of a hearing room while Chairman Chuck Grassley read his opening statement. What kind of a dialogue is created by walking out of a hearing room?
  4. After allegedly feeling discouraged by Dr. Ford’s testimony, Trump felt empowered by Kavanaugh’s performance. He tweeted: Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. Here, Trump displayed his well-established incapacity to dialogue.

These few examples, chosen from hundred occurring each day, demonstrate the problem with a culture which passively witnesses, if not actively hosts, a diminishment in dialogue. 

Remember pre-school? There, you learn that human beings are capable, at least theoretically, of listening carefully to one another, considering differing viewpoints, and discussing them. You practice these basic human communicative skills.

I’ve previously posted on the difficulties modern means of communication, like Twitter or Facebook, pose for the process of dialogue. These technology-driven vehicles promote mutual or serial monologues, not real dialogues.

However, the examples I just cited extend well beyond means of transmission. They reveal actual regressed, primitive, and narcissistic human behavior—in our major leaders no less!

Yesterday’s “hearing” was actually not one because only two voices were heard. No other perspectives were offered. They didn’t respond to each other. The sham-hearing turned into another example of mutual monologue.

De Leon’s nasty accusations, and Feinstein’s reply, represent good old fashioned mud-slinging. They too show an incapacity to discuss, dialogue, and compromise.

Speaking of pre-school, the four senators “dramatic” exodus from the hearing room—while obviously intended to symbolize discontent—provides yet another example of immature, primitive behavior.

Finally—and never failing to provide innumerable examples of non-dialogic behavior—Trump’s tweet validates his arguably disabling incapacity to engage in dialogue.

No wonder so many Americans feel discouraged with their major democratic institutions.

We are witnessing, even on a minute-by-minute basis, the slow death of our leaders’ capacities to to listen, respond, and discuss. Instead, they rely upon caricatures like “the other side of the aisle,” “those liberals,” or “the morons in the Federalist Society.”

I maintain some small hope that, like western philosopher Hegel predicted, things will eventually swing back. The regression to name-calling, foot-stomping, walking-out, and making simplified generalizations will pass. Some day leaders will show a capacity for careful and deliberate dialogue.

Meanwhile, the us versus them, the good versus the bad, and the black versus the white dominates, and even the possibility of dialogue gasps for its life.



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