Political conversation in a polarized nation


Photo by Terry Shields

Guest speakers Melissa Harris-Perry and Rod Dreher sharing the stage at the Homer L. Hitt Alumni and Visitor Center.

Jack Waguespack, News Editor

On Thursday, March 14, the Honors Program invited Melissa Harris-Perry and Rod Dreher to discuss the current political climate and the future of political conversation between opposing parties. Melissa Harris-Perry is the former host for the MSNBC television show “Melissa Harris-Perry” and author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET, Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, and Sister Citizenship. Rod Dreher is senior editor for the American Conservative Magazine and author of the Benedict Option. He also writes for many other outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal and The National Times. The two come from varying political parties and hold differing views, but they sat together to open a discussion around how each party sees the other and whether their relations are really the worst they have been in history.

Perry opened the discussion by talking about the polarization of the two parties.

“Each side perceives the other as a danger,” said Perry. “If you believe that someone is a “danger” to your nation, you aren’t curious about them. You aren’t listening to them. Your only goal is to defeat.”

While the way we interact with people we disagree with is pretty bad, it is not the worst we have seen in history, Perry said. As a black woman in the South, she said her father’s and grandfather’s experiences living in the Jim Crow South don’t compare to where we are now.

“We seem to be at a point where to admit you might be wrong about something is considered a weakness, and you never do that,” Dreher said. When people are talking about politics, they put their emotions before the facts, he said. Watching the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers firsthand and only surrounding himself with like-minded people clouded his judgement about going to war. He also hit on fear and how such a strong emotion can sway your judgement to something you may not usually agree with.

“I was so angry after that, just filled with rage,” Dreher shared. “As a result, I was ready to go to war out of fear. I had to repent because I only talked to people who agreed with me back then, and it led me to make a huge mistake.”

Trauma and fear can cause someone to think rashly or selfishly, due to witnessing discrimination or harassment first hand.

Said Harris-Perry, “In trauma, in fear, in pain, we close and make decisions from that … what is the trauma behind the action?” She believes trauma is one reason people vote the way they do. Each person has a different interaction with society based off the trauma they face. She also brought up the importance of representation, mentioning that having a black president gave her confidence she didn’t think it would until it actually happened.  

To wrap up the discussion, both sides agreed on the importance of researching the opposite parties’ policies and seeing how they really work and think. Neutral ground can only be established with conversation, open mindedness and a open line of communication where neither side feels attacked or belittled. Political discourse is not even close to the worst it has been in history, but things will not get better without effort from all sides and all beliefs.