As someone who covers the 2016 presidential candidates while parenting three young children, I spend half of my waking hours keeping an eye on rowdy juveniles who hunger for attention, don’t listen, fib often, pick on each other, fight incessantly, refuse to admit they’re wrong and don’t know how to behave in public. The rest of the time, I’m tending to my kids.
When I fuse my two roles together, I realize that the one gift I owe my children during this holiday season is an apology. I had hopes this year of giving them something special that could last a lifetime. But I wasn’t able to deliver.
What I wanted to give them was a country that is capable of having a national dialogue that informs rather than infuriates, and enlightens rather than enrages. Americans are not there yet. In fact, as we’re often reminded during election years, we have a long way to go.
For instance, during the debate earlier this year over clandestine videos of personnel affiliated with Planned Parenthood ghoulishly discussing the harvesting of baby organs, it was rare to find someone who was pro-choice who would still acknowledge being disgusted by the videos. Just as it was hard to find anyone who was pro-life who found any value to the work done by Planned Parenthood.
We’d be a stronger country, and better people, if we could agree to disagree on the important issues without always challenging one another’s motives or character before retreating to our individual silos with the like-minded.
And if we listened more and didn’t just seek out those opinions with which we agree and actively avoid different points of view.
And if we put a premium on truth and weren’t so quick to excuse lies told by candidates we support while condemning those told by candidates we oppose.
And if we didn’t accept words as a permissible substitute for actions and consistently held candidates and elected officials accountable when they do something wrong or say something offensive.
And if we weren’t at each other’s throats over even minor differences of opinion, insisting that everyone agree with us 100 percent of the time.
And if we demanded – from elected officials and from one another – that we all put more thought, honesty and nuance into our discussion of policy issues, instead of drawing out our perspectives in stark black-and-white terms when the world comes in shades of gray.
Recently, a cable news producer asked me about the sparring match between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz over a Cruz amendment to the 2013 Senate immigration bill, which would have granted legal status to illegal immigrants but stopped short of bestowing citizenship. Cruz now claims the amendment was a poison pill meant to kill the legislation, even though at the time he told journalists, and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that it wasn’t.
The producer wanted to know whom did I side with, Rubio or Cruz.
I told him: “I’d go with Marco’s comprehensive immigration reform bill – but only with Ted’s amendment changing citizenship to legal status.”
The producer was surprised to hear me stake out a middle ground, calling it a unique perspective.
It’s just common sense, something that is a scarce commodity these days in politics, media and much of society at large. Whether the subject is immigration, gun control, abortion or any other, there’s a reason that Americans have been debating these issues for decades.
These public discussions are difficult, complicated and messy. And there are no easy answers, only incomplete discussions and intellectual shortcuts.
So, this holiday season, I’m sorry I can’t give my children a country where the national dialogue isn’t in total shambles.
However, all is not lost. I do have something else for them that could be quite valuable. It’s the same thing I try to give them all year long – lectures, lessons and sermons about how to be the best people they can be.
I tell them to think critically, question everything, listen intently, speak truthfully, try to figure out what they believe and why, admit when they’re wrong, change course when needed, and respect different points of view. If they do all that, they can withstand whatever the public discourse throws at them.
Those messages are not always welcomed. I get pushback. But then, whether we’re talking about children or countries, no one said growing up was easy.
Ruben Navarrette Jr., formerly of Sanger, is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.