Phil Boas: The Danger Of Turning Politics Into Religion
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Now we're going to check in with the editorial board of the Arizona Republic. It's a weekly segment where we talk about current issues facing the state and the nation, featured in columns on the newspaper's op-ed pages. Presidential election years can bring out the worst in many people, according to Phil Boas of the Republic. In his most recent column, he writes about his concerns that some of our freedoms are in danger when we disagree about politics and elections to such an extent that it becomes harder to see those we disagree with as fellow citizens, [and] Boas is with me to talk about that. So, Phil, is 2020 the starkest example of what you wrote about?
PHIL BOAS: It's as bad as it gets. I think 2016 was bad. So I think that the modern era has been the worst that I've seen. But I — I've seen it in presidential cycles. Just the anger and vitriol, you know, just being on the receiving end at a newspaper from readers both left and right and they're furious and all the time just angry and on edge. And yeah, it really is different than other cycles, you know, off-years or midterms are not nearly as, as angry and furious as they seem to be.
GOLDSTEIN: And you're feeling like the venom from both sides is even more dramatic than we've seen before. Like, there's very — if there ever was a chance for common ground, November — this November — is not the place, not the time?
BOAS: Well, this is the reason I wrote the column is because I, I see a quality in my fellow Americans, too many of them, who have made politics their religion. I mean, that, they, it has become gospel to them and they can only see their side as right and the other side is evil. And that is a very myopic view of American politics. They lack the long view that you need to understand our democracy — that we live in a country that requires two sides, at least, in — we, we have to have a competition of ideas in this country in order to be free. And it is, it is the hallmark of a free country to have that — to be able to disagree with one another. And too many people seem to think that this country has to go the way I want it to go other way — otherwise it's going to hell.
GOLDSTEIN: What's interesting about that, Phil, is you personalize it in the piece — because a lot of people might actually say those who are just the loudest voices we hear — that actually a plurality, at least, of Americans are people who just want to go about their business and they deal with people in their everyday lives that they may disagree with, but they can, can get along to some extent and talk about things. But at the bigger stage, in the political stage, the electoral stage, all of that goes out the window. How much of that is true?
BOAS: Yeah, the noisiest come to the fore during these presidential election years, no doubt. And one of the great things about American culture is that we do have this large, moderate middle that is the ballast for the country. It keeps us steady. It doesn't go too crazy. But it feels like we have more of the crazies than ever before. And I just find myself in arguments and debates with friends and coworkers and, you know, who have, have completely drank the Kool-Aid that their side is the side of righteousness — and that is just pure madness. It's also ignorant. It is ignorant if not realize that your side has been spectacularly wrong in history, throughout history, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, you need, you need a counterweight to keep you honest. If you're a Republican — I'm a Republican. I'm a part of the opinion side of journalism. I'm paid to express my opinion. But I know that I need Democrats out there to keep my side honest. And the opposite is true as well.
GOLDSTEIN: How did we arrive at this point then, Phil?
BOAS: I mean, the, we have seen the division in the country that is, is sharper. The vision for the country and where it should go is, is, is, is more a great relief than it has been in the past — that we, we used to share more common ideas about what the future looked like. But, you know, we are headed, we're always headed toward the future. The future is unknown and everybody is going to bring their ideas to the table. And those ideas need to compete. And they're — the gold in America is not that horizon everybody wants to get to, it's the freedom that we have now to be able to disagree with one another. And what we're seeing today that I really haven't seen in the past to this degree, and that is an effort to censor our fellow Americans — to keep their voices out of the square, out of the public square. And that's a dangerous thing, because that, that can really threaten what is good in this country, and that is the ability to speak our mind.
GOLDSTEIN: Well, Phil, a lot of people might be thinking and want to ask the question, how do we then get a certain percentage of people to separate opinion from fact and realize there are differences there?
BOAS: That's always going to be an ongoing effort. I mean, because politics are fluid and there are always new ideas emerging and they all need to go through the test. They all need to go through debate. And you cannot cut off debate. One of the deans over at ASU, this is Jonathan Koppell, who is the dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, he, he had a great observation about both left and right — that they both have something very much in common. Both sides think that we're losing our country. And what is different about them is they think the other side is to blame. He read a series that we published in The Republic that was looking at what are the common values that we share. Those are important things that we need to understand as we go through, you know, these sharp, divisive moments. That there are a lot of things that we have in common, you know, a belief in a free society and free speech.
GOLDSTEIN: Phil Boas of the Arizona Republic. Phil, thanks as always. Take care.
BOAS: Oh, thank you, Steve.