Politics and Conversation

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Most of us like to talk, though the success of our conversations depends on whom we’re talking with and how invested the involved parties are in the subject at hand.

Take the remodeling project underway at our house. It’s a project being done by committee: my husband, my son, and me. I’ve learned to edit the stack of magazine clips and ads chock full of great design ideas when I sit down with the guys to go over the next steps. At best, I’m likely to get 60 seconds of “great design ideas” before the listeners’ attention wanders.

Before I understood this, I’d get going on the nuances of paint glazes and stains and solid paint colors and suddenly realize that the expressions on my loved ones’ faces resembled that of Edvard Munch’s famous painting of 1893 “The Scream.”

According to munch.org, the painter was inspired to depict the anguish he felt at being left by two companions alone in a forest. Ever after, his painting (actually he created several versions) has been used as reference for all sorts of primeval – and modern — horrors.

And what, I ask you, is a more apropos image of the 2016 presidential election campaign (or, more accurately, the 2014-2016 campaign), than Munch’s “The Scream?”

The election coverage has been banal and boring in its repetitions without much content. As a student of the English language, I’ve been disturbed to see how words have been manipulated, meanings twisted, terms such as “sarcasm” misapplied, although it’s always been so – check out George Orwell’s indicting essay of the late 1940s “Politics and the English Language.”

But this year our political conversation has been manhandled in yet another way: Donald Trump’s insistence that he micro-manage the very language and content of his appearances and interviews. He wants to screen his live audiences and complains about some of the questions reporters and others ask. Trump needs to man up, put on his big-boy jockey shorts (or boxers, whatever), and step up for an open dialogue with the press and with the people, both those who agree with him and those who don’t. It’s the American way.

This sort of attitude is not limited to the presidential campaign. It is reflected in the Newport Beach City Council race. Some candidates refuse to respond to invitations to speak at forums or always seem to have prior commitments. That these stealth candidates are part of the same cabal that brought “Team Newport” (Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Kevin Muldoon, and Scott Peotter – with Diane Dixon a sometime team member) into office in 2014, makes it all the more important for the residents of Newport Beach to have every opportunity to question, debate, and converse with these particular candidates.

Back in 2014, I was serving as president of the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club, and we hosted a candidates forum at the Five Crowns Garden Room. Peotter and Muldoon, both staunch conservatives among others, showed up. (Duffield did not). It was a stimulating discussion that mostly stayed within civility, Peotter being the recipient of an angry interrogation by a woman who was privy to his real estate investment that had gone bad some years back. I apologized to Peotter afterward, and to his credit he shrugged it off as being all part of politics. Later, one candidate came over to tell me about an encounter he had with a club member who wanted to know where he stood on women’s reproductive rights. (It’s not such a far-fetched issue regarding the city council as you might think, since Peotter had long been vehement in his stand against such rights as well as LGBT rights, as his post-election behavior on the council would show.)

It seemed to me that this council candidate had not had many close encounters with women who had fought over the last 40 or so years for our reproductive rights. Certainly he seemed uncomfortable by the conversation, saying that he was, after all, a Christian as though that closed the debate. I replied that I too was a Christian and supported Roe v. Wade and all other reproductive freedoms.

What I then said to him I say to all of the candidates now running for public office: Conversation with those who hold disparate viewpoints is just what you ought to be doing. It may not always be enjoyable but it can and should be enlightening. Refusing to engage with all of the community you say that you want to serve shows a disturbing arrogance. The people of Newport Beach have much to talk with you about: Banning Ranch, Museum House, 150 Newport Center, and Mariner’s Mile, to name just a few issues. They want to know whether you’re willing to talk.

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