The Dinner Table: An Observation of American Discourse

Recent days have revealed very little about the direction our nation is heading in regards to firearms. Despite the mainstream media having their armory of reporters focused on guns and every Twitter activist wearing down their keyboards in 280-character diatribes against the other side, we’re not any closer to finding resolve.

This cancerous, roundabout debate on firearms will end the same way most end in America. Perhaps we will see a revival of the Assault Weapons Ban that we saw from ’94 to ’04, or perhaps Trump’s proposal will alleviate concerns for the time being. Regardless of what happens, this won’t be the last time we have a national discussion on guns, and it won’t be the last time we find each side calling the other fascists and murderers.

What today’s debate regarding firearms will do, undoubtedly, is divide our nation further. The insults have reached a disturbing, personal level, the conspiracy theorists are busier than they have ever been, and both sides have lost sight of the fact that their mental opponents are really their American brothers and sisters. This issue, if anything, will serve as a spotlight on a cultural crisis that has been brewing in our nation for decades, extending far beyond the issue of guns.

This crisis wasn’t manufactured by the gun lobby and it certainly isn’t the fault of any single politician or party. This crisis began at the dinner table.

Gone should be the days of banishing controversial political topics at the American dinner table. Holding a secretive, vitriolic hatred for the individuals across the lumber, nails, and feast should not be a point of pride, nor should one’s ability to divide the individual from their beliefs for momentary solace be any sort of accomplishment. Holding one’s tongue breeds contempt, discourse gives birth to progress.

I shall not go as far as to say that personal restraint is irresponsible, but the opposing extreme of constant self-censorship in the name of preserving peace is utter nonsense. To discuss, to debate, to discourse is to show great respect for your philosophical adversary and give the utmost regard for the American ideals of democracy.

If we are to resist sharing our hearts and minds with those we are closest to, both in proximity and relation, then how are we to have these discussions on the nation stage? Whilst issues of national and international intrigue are not to be solved at the dinner table, the character of our leaders — and our voters — will certainly be molded there.

How are we to prepare our children — our nation’s future leaders — for introspective thought and self-critique if not challenged from an early age?

A decades-long held practice of secrecy on these issues has bred generations of individuals who are unable to respect differing opinions and unable to articulate their own beliefs. The term “snowflake,” while certainly derogatory, holds a great deal of truth in relation to the delicacy of individuals’ ability to engage with opposing sides. In contrast, those that cast the term upon others do little justice to reversing this trend.

We have done no service to our future generations by shielding them from the truths of democracy. Despite the rhetoric, we do not live under tyranny. Why must we teach our children to hide their beliefs and submerge their discomfort with other beliefs as if the likes of the KGB or Gestapo are to suddenly arrive in disagreement?

The recent reemergence of the “debate” surrounding the Second Amendment is only a “debate” as far as television ratings go. Both sides already hold their views as truth, armed to the teeth with a quiver of insults and labels to stoke fear and hatred in the eyes of Americans. The fact that so many Americans are willing to cast others as willing accomplices to murder — and with such haste — shines a light on the state of our nation’s discourse.

In not preparing our children, we have failed them. Generations look upon their fellow man with blood boiling, fists clenched, and while most have remained behind their screens, it requires only certain circumstances to turn keyboard warriors into wannabe revolutionaries. Our children are also quick to lazily turn to government solutions, resulting in massive growth in the power of government — from the local level to the federal level. There was once a time where both parties could agree that the accumulation of power by our government shackled our citizens and starved the flames of liberty.

Sadly, those who claim that the police are corrupt and the government is a sham are the first to look to government to not only regulate, but to oversee and control entire industries of our economy. When our children see the man sleeping on the sidewalk, they do not turn to the shelter to render aid or to the donation bin to volunteer their paychecks. Instead, they call to the government, they plan a protest, they post on Instagram, and they sleep feeling accomplished. They were part of something bigger than themselves!

Instead of utilizing their voices — which have been amplified by our advancements in technology — to bring their communities together in a voluntary fashion, they have instead turned to government coercion. Compassion at gunpoint. We don’t know our neighbors, but based upon the NRA sticker on their car and the American flag flying outside their home, we are certain to conclude we wouldn’t want to associate with them.

Conservatives conduct themselves in the same fashion. For every liberal who judges a conservative based upon their Trump sticker, there is a conservative doing the same due to a Hillary or Bernie sticker. Unfortunately, for conservatives, we have lost sight of the fact that our philosophical fight doesn’t just occur on the floor of the House of Representatives, but at the end of our cul-de-sac, on our campuses, and in our own homes. While we are to fight to keep government small, we must also fight to keep hearts big.

It begins at the dinner table, where we can have open and honest discussions about important issues, understanding that opposing views aren’t discouraged, they’re encouraged, and that they are indicative of the American way.

We may not have the answers for the gun debate, the abortion debate, or the immigration debate today, but if we start these conversations at the dinner table, perhaps we’ll have them tomorrow.