America’s increasingly polarized political discourse — including on college campuses — threatens the future of democracy, Michael Bloomberg argues in a recent editorial.
Writing on the Bloomberg news site, the 77-year-old billionaire former mayor of New York City observes that Americans are becoming too unwilling to engage with people whose ideas differ from their own, as exemplified by supporters and detractors of President Trump.
“Without engagement,” Bloomberg writes, “liberal democracy can’t survive.”
He adds that Americans used to move forward productively after elections, regardless of which side won, but now seem paralyzed by absolutism and intolerance.
“To put it simply,” Bloomberg writes, “healthy democracy is about living with disagreement, not eliminating it.”
“To put it simply, healthy democracy is about living with disagreement, not eliminating it.”
He points to college campuses as a prime example, citing the experience of Steven Gerrard, a professor at Williams College in Massachusetts.
Students declared Gerrard an “enemy of the people” after he advocated for Williams to join other schools in signing on to the Chicago Statement, published by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago, which calls for free speech to be central to college and university environments.
The students distributed a letter in which they called free speech a term that “has been co-opted by right-wing and liberal parties as a discursive cover for racism, xenophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and classism.”
According to Bloomberg, “This view suggests that universities must suppress the very act of reasoning.
“Incredibly,” he adds, “many seem willing to try.”
He notes that fewer than 70 of more than 4,000 institutions across the U.S. have adopted or endorsed the Chicago Statement – and asserts that the lack of support has helped promote intolerance in the culture.
In the end, Bloomberg writes, a democracy can’t survive if its people are unwilling to discuss areas of contention, or extend political bitterness into business boycotts and other demonstrations of intolerance.
“Restoring the ability to disagree without becoming mortal enemies,” he writes, “is a new and urgent civic imperative.”
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Michael Bloomberg warns intolerance on college campuses is dangerous for democracy
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