It has been a while since I mailed you my list. We need your help now more than ever. It seems as though the nature of our public discourse has deteriorated substantially. While Congress clearly wins this race to the bottom, state and even local governments can suffer from the same decline.
Free and robust debate powers our democracy at all levels of government. Unfortunately, that debate too often consists solely of the demonization of those with a different point of view. Our public discourse is dominated by attempts to distort, not explore, opposing arguments. Sadly, it is more important to attack than to educate and persuade.
The extremes are becoming the norm. The polarization of every policy issue to advance the national agenda of a political party or “special interest” has consistently produced the same result. Dysfunction. Disappointment. Disgrace! Apparently, this is acceptable so long as the other guy looks bad when it’s all over. What happened to doing the people’s business?
A proliferation of 24/7 news outlets, Internet-based polling, organization and “advocacy” and consumer devices and social media developments have equipped us with the tools to demonize, distort and attack around the clock – around the globe. Hey, I am sure there must be an app for that.
Perhaps, it’s not the technology that has accelerated this decline. In fact, it is simply the medium. A widespread lack of trust and respect for each other has desensitized us to the dangers inherent in the status of our public discourse. The causes of this societal slide are many and may include: the perceived and real marginalization of segments of the population; the increasingly wide income divide; decline of organized religion; stresses in the family unit; windows of educational and economic opportunity being closed; and the lack of reflection time unplugged from the frenetic events of everyday life. All can create a “me vs. them” mentality – a recipe for mistrust and lack of respect for each other.
So here’s my list, Santa:
1. National, state and local government bodies where civility, common sense, collaboration and compromise are seen as virtues and the path to doing what is right for the people they serve.
2. A resurrected “middle class” and educational and economic opportunities for all who wish to pursue them.
3. A balance between a government that is too large and intrusive and one some are trying to dismantle.
4. Enough food for everyone, especially the children in the United States who do not have enough to eat.
5. Knowing that our best days are still ahead of us, give our elected representatives the wisdom, courage and skills needed to do the job the American people deserve.
By the way, the sled still works well. Honestly, it doesn’t seem to climb up the hill as quickly as it once did.
Donald J. Pfundstein
* Attorney Pfundstein is admitted in New Hampshire.