Ben Shapiro, the popular conservative pundit, and Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) did something that is unthinkable and very rare in today’s political environment: have a civil discussion about the merits and drawbacks of a policy proposal. There were no insults, no screaming, no snarky comments or personal attacks. Mind-blowing, I know.
In a 12-minute-long conversation, Shapiro and Khanna had a very productive and rational dialogue about the Democrats’ proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Khanna agreed that there were many small businesses that could be heavily affected by the raise, which is why he proposed that there should be federal incentives for them. He also mentioned the potential issues that monopsony (when a company is the only one that is hiring) power can have on the overall rate of growth on wages.
Shapiro responded by arguing that a raise would generally slow employment down by reducing the profits of small businesses. These small businesses, Shapiro believes, would think twice before hiring new employees. He also argued that an increase to the federal minimum wage does not take into account the many costs of living throughout the country, and that the minimum wage dismisses employees’ bargaining power.
The economic arguments were very completing and their debate is highly recommended.
The most important thing about this interview, however, is not the specific policy proposals they discussed, but the mere fact that they were able to have a civil conversation.
Nowadays, we are used to talking about politics as an existential winner-take all thing. The current political environment involves personal attacks, insults, petty “gotcha” questions, scandalous claims, and just an overall toxic environment in which we see political rivals as deep personal foes. We have abandoned the tradition of actually listening and engaging with the other side of the aisle, we now treat politics as sports, where we unconditionally support our team. Don’t get me wrong, being a die hard fan of Real Madrid is great (I mean we did win 3 champions in a row), but taking the same approach to politics is terrible.
Even worst, we are letting politics determine who associate with. A 2020 Pew study showed that 7% of Democrats would not date someone who voted for Trump, while 47% of Republicans said the same thing about someone that had voted for Clinton. This is a dangerous and complete foolish trend.
Shapiro and Khanna reminded us why it is important to actually debate with the other side without having to resort to cheap insults or getting into a screaming contest that will ensure more clicks and views. That does not mean we have to agree with the other side or compromise our underlying principles. It does mean, however, that we have to stop demonizing our opponents. To my conservative and Republican friends, Democrats might have (very) bad policy ideas, and we must scrutinize their policies, but they’re not the devil.
Disagreements are not only inevitable, but actually encouraged in a constitutional republic. We should stand up for what we think is the right path for our country. We must have profound debates about the merits of our principles. A republic, after all, needs a free flow and exchange of ideas in order to work.
That means actually engaging with people who do not agree with you, debate with them, try to convince them, not only speaking with people that already align with your ideas. By defending your ideas from scrutiny you would either find even more reasons to defend it or, who knows, you might even change your mind. By the way, that is why cancel culture is so pervasive to our system, it demonizes people because of their political views.
We should follow the example of the late justices RBG and Antonin Scalia, who had completely opposite views on politics, the law, and almost every single issue that came to the Court. Nevertheless, they were great personal friends who even spent New Year’s Eve together and went to the opera. That did not prevent them from being fierce opponents in the Supreme Court. No one dared to accuse RBG or Scalia of being cowards or too afraid to stand up for their beliefs just because they preferred civil discussions rather than cutthroat politics.
It is easy to fall into your eco chamber and follow your confirmation biases, we all do it. America cannot continue into this path where your political affiliation defines you as an individual. I have many liberal friends and many others that are a bit more conservative, but that does not prevent me from seeing them as fine individuals who just have different (or even unwise) ideas.
America is becoming an extremely divided country, where politics are becoming a defining factor on our personal lives. Let us turn the tide, stand up for what you believe, but let’s do it with arguments and civility, just like Shapiro and Rep. Khanna did.