Geneva Conventions for the Political Wars

I have been distressed by the rising tide of politicism: treating those who have different political views as if they weren't fully human. I'll grant that when someone's political views include not treating a class of people (defined by something other than politics) as less than fully human that it is tempting to fight fire with fire. But fighting fire with fire burns the world down. Be better than those who don't accord full dignity to all human beings by not returning indignity in kind!

The two articles shown above point to potential sets of "laws of war" for political battles. Soon-to-be-former-senator-from-Utah Orrin Hatch suggests these laws of political war:

First, we must agree on the need to shield communal spaces from politicization—just as schools, hospitals and places of worship are protected from military strikes in times of armed conflict.

Second, we must work together to resist the politicization of everything. Just as the rules of war prohibit military attacks that inflict undue burdens on civilian life, we should condemn culture-war tactics that cause unnecessary damage to civil society. Denouncing those who politicize things that should not be politicized—even when we agree with their political cause—is the only way to ensure proportionality in the culture wars.

Third, we must discourage harassment of public figures and incursions into their private lives. Just as combatants and POWs are accorded certain rights in wartime, government officials and others who participate in politics deserve privacy and respect, no matter how intense the culture wars become. ...

Fourth, liberals and conservatives alike should commit themselves to rhetorical disarmament. During the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet Union signed treaties to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In a culture war, in which words are weapons, both sides need to ease their inflammatory language.

In relation to these laws of war, Orrin Hatch scolds Donald Trump:

... even as a strong supporter of President Trump, I have repeatedly encouraged him to use Twitter as a tool for good rather than as a cudgel for division. I have likewise discouraged him from calling the press “the enemy of the people.” Even with its flaws, the media is indispensable to our democracy. Insofar as reporters are committed to objective journalism and not political advocacy, they should be treated as noncombatants in the culture wars.

As described in the second article, after a time of troubles, a group of local leaders in Duluth suggested these nine rules for political debate:

  • pay attention

  • listen

  • be inclusive

  • don’t gossip

  • show respect

  • be agreeable

  • apologize

  • give constructive criticism

  • take responsibility

Duluth's rules for political debate are good rules for any argument, not just a political argument. They may be too much to hope for in national political debate, but Duluth has gone a long way towards getting people to abide by these rules in local political debate.

The only way laws of political warfare will ever be respected is if people enforce them on their own side. I hope you will do your part in scolding those who violate the laws of political warfare and in supporting others who take it upon themselves to do the needed scolding.