By Ralph Benko. Reprinted from Forbes.
This week over 60 million Americans likely will vote for Clinton and another over 60 million for Trump. The way to get America back on track is for us to listen to one another irrespective of the outcome. What happens after election day is up to us, much more so than it is up to whomever we elect.
We voters are ultimately in charge of the political culture. We can, if we choose, readily put that culture to rights and America back on track. Will we so choose?
Some are already well begun.
On November 2, a unique and startling high profile conversation was conducted by the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College. I, as a representative of livingroomconversations.org, served as co-moderator. Professor Roger Berkowitz, Director of the Arendt Center and Associate Professor of Politics, Philosophy, and Human Rights, served as chief moderator.
The event was no mere academic exercise. It set a new direction, or, rather, a return to old and precious classical liberal first principles.
Hannah Arendt was one of the signal classical liberals of the 20th century. The Center named for her at Bard is keeping lifted her lamp beside the golden door. Since politics is derivative of culture this is a very big deal.
The rules governing the conversation between Clinton and Trump partisans were set forth at the Bard College website:
The conversation will not be a debate, but an attempt to understand each other and hear why it is that the participants feel so strongly that their candidate could be a political savior and their adversary a force for political destruction.
In welcoming an overflow audience of close to 200 I warned that I myself have managed to irritate all of my friends, of the right and left, this year. I did so by publishing many columns and blogs in this winter of our political discontent praising Trump and Clinton, both. In a campaign season consisting almost entirely of vilification this made me somewhat of an outlier. (Some of my friends support Trump. Some of my friends support Clinton. As for me… I stand by my friends, no matter at what cost.)
The “rules of the game” of the conversation at Bard as further set forth at Bard.edu:
The American Dream has two essential components: prosperity and justice for all. Donald Trump has attracted a broad following for his promises to restore prosperity. He also has become a lightning rod for hostility both from the left and the right. Hillary Clinton has attracted a broad following for her promises to restore economic justice. She also has many fierce detractors from the right and also from the democratic socialist left. Both candidates have extraordinary high unpopularity ratings. The political discourse has produced exceptionally intense vitriol from the candidates, their campaigns, their proxies and their partisans greatly amplified by the media.
Each panelist gave a statement of their values and what makes them tick. They then moved to a statement of what they found most attractive about their chosen candidate.
Most striking and, to my view, significant was the creation of a venue in which such statements could be aired in a climate of mutual respect. The Arendt Center and the Bard community created a profound and, in this overwrought year, perhaps unique space which restored, if only for a night, the climate of classical liberalism. This promises that classical liberalism can be entirely revived. In fact, it paves the way.
Classical liberalism is defined by the Wikipedia as “a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties and political freedom with representative democracy under the rule of law and emphasizes economic freedoms found in economic liberalism which is also called free market capitalism.”
Classical liberalism derives from the writings of such political economists as John Locke and Adam Smith. While scarcely in evidence during 2016 it is very much part of America’s DNA.
Only time will tell whether this singular event will be seen in retrospect as a “Port Huron Statement” moment, a critical inflection point in what might become a mass movement. A mass movement in favor of classical liberal values assuredly would make America both good and great again. From LivingRoomConversations.org:
Let me assure my readers — speaking as a paleoconservative, as sure as the Sun revolves around the Earth! -- that on November 9th the Earth, and politics, will go on. Much may depend on whether we, very much including activists from across a wide political spectrum, follow Bard’s lead and grasp this opportunity to create a classical liberal mass movement founded in mutual respect.
Living room conversations can transform distrust and discord into understanding — paving the way for collaborative solutions. When we have authentic, respectful conversations we strengthen our relationships and advance our understanding of the challenges, opportunities and solutions before us.
To read the full column click here.