By Kevin Henning
For the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, October 21, 2023
Hatred, bigotry, political polarization, and distrust are huge problems that must be solved if we are to remain a democracy. We need people on the left and the right and center to fix it. We can’t have them doing it in their own silos because they’ll just come up with their own partisan solutions. The ADL (Anti-Defamation League) “fights all forms of antisemitism and bias. ADL is a global leader in combating antisemitism, countering extremism, and battling bigotry wherever and whenever it happens. ADL works to protect democracy and ensure a just and inclusive society for all.” FixUS “is a group of Americans united in shared concern over the divided state of our country. They believe that healing our divisions is our highest national priority and is essential to preparing our nation to face the defining challenges of the 21st century.” Both these organizations are at the forefront of combating hatred, bigotry, and polarization. Their analysis and recommendations deserve our attention.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 83% of Americans are fed up with our dysfunctional politics and the hatred it spawns. What is required is not putting a different party in charge. We must turn away from the self-destructive obsession with winning at all costs. Our current system consistently prioritizes gaining political power over doing the work of the people and solving problems. Our economic strength was built over many centuries, but some seem willing to throw all that away for political and/or personal gain as demonstrated but continued use of a national debt limit as a bargaining chip. This continued partisan warfare causes the American voter to disengage from political activity which allows extreme views to hold sway.
According to ADL, extremist activity, anti-LGBTQ events, and antisemitic incidents are increasing in Texas. Some of the root causes of our political disfunction are similar to those driving the increase in hatred in Texas. Levels of antisemitic incidents in Texas increased from 112 in 2021 to 212 in 2022. White supremist propaganda and events increased 60% over from 2021 to 2022. FBI statistics show that hate crimes increased from 406 to 542 from 2020 to 2021. ADL recommends that Texas create a commission to study and address extremism while preserving civil liberties. The commission would hold a summit of state leaders, experts, and stakeholders to develop a strategy to address hate-based violence and extremism. In 2023, the Texas Legislature took an excellent first step by funding a $2 million grant program, supplementing a federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, to help houses of worship protect themselves from extremists. The legislature could expand grant programs to promote training and terrorism prevention at the state level. Social media provides opportunities to connect with one another, but according to ADL, they are also breeding grounds for hate, harassment, and extremism. We need a task force to do research and develop best practices for reducing hate on social media platforms in Texas.
The dysfunction threatening our democracy will require a long-term effort to address partisan extremes. We must bring back the norms and values that make our system work. The lost art of compromise needs to be restored. We could start by establishing an independent redistricting commission to lessen partisan gerrymandering which currently creates in Texas only three competitive congressional districts out of 38. Civics should be a priority in our schools. We need to reinvigorate those who are disengaged by bringing civility back to our political discourse. The essential elements for a democracy to function are civility and truth. We all must learn to listen to divergent views. We should try to understand the basis for another’s opinions. We must also present our points in a civil fashion, and most importantly, both sides must ground those arguments in facts. Comity–courtesy or considerate behavior towards others–used to be an attribute of the Texas Legislature that was proudly displayed. Today, not even the Republican majority can make that claim as the Speaker and Lieutenant Governor feud and threats of retribution are the norm.
Time to bring comity back to Texas, and as columnist Chris Tomlinson recently urged: “The time is ripe for moderates to stand up to extremists and win back the trust of average Americans.” I still believe and remain committed to the belief that kindness and caring for others will bring meaning and purpose to each of us. Let’s all work to end hatred.
To learn more, check out the Kendall County Democratic Party website: www.kcdems.us.
Kevin Henning is a local Democrat.