ALPENA — Finding a way to overcome differences in political discourse and unite those who have differing opinions is easier said than done and isn’t going to happen overnight, local political experts say.
From abortion to guns to the environment and education, opinions are varied on many issues. In some cases, people refuse to consider the thoughts, concerns, and ideas of those with opposing views, which can lead to confrontation, including physical attacks or personal attacks on social media.
Tim Kuehnlein, political science and history instructor at Alpena Community College, said the country’s diversity is a good thing, but it also sets the stage for political turmoil. He said he believes that is the case now; as it has been during other points in history.
“While diversity is a strength of the American experience, it is also exploited for political reasons at various junctures of history in the US in the struggle over values and whose values dominate our system,” he said. “Especially when people start feeling like they are pushed against a wall or being somehow threatened at their core. It all has to do with philosophical differences, no doubt, about the way things should be and about resources, values, power, and opportunity, etc. based on our differences.”
Doris Feys, the president of the League of Women Voters of Northeast Michigan, said in more than 30 years of working and covering elections, she has never seen the political climate so heated. She said people need to come together and develop an understanding and acceptance of one another’s political beliefs, but she is unsure how to achieve that and fearful the political climate will continue to intensify.
“There is a lack of civil discourse that I hope is not the norm,” she said. “I have never seen anything like I have in the last two years and I’m concerned about our democracy. I’m concerned about our country.
It has never been uncommon for people to discuss or debate politics. But in some cases, political rhetoric can damage relationships and can potentially result in violence.
On Saturday, a candidate for the Alpena Public Schools Board of Education had an altercation with a man at Mich-e-ke-wis Park.
A video appears to show candidate George Pena placing his hands near the neck of a man who claims he was questioning the legality of a political event at the public park.
A witness said the man, John La Cross of Alpena, initiated the physical confrontation by shoving Pena first.
The News has filed a FOIA request to the Alpena Police Department for a copy of the police report.
Kuehnlein said having people engaged in political happenings is important, but when more people are involved the higher the odds of conflict and negative results.
“The heightened discourse can be good if everyone keeps their cool and is mindful of self-discipline, individual responsibility, mutual respect – civility, working towards common solutions,” he said. “But, history shows that hyperbolic participation can often be a slippery slope to an overstimulated system that implodes on itself.”
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