Op-Ed: Liberals – Are We Less Tolerant than We Think?


Photo credit: Alexandra Chang

Recent magazine covers about the 2016 presidential election. Politics have become a constant topic of discussion for news outlets and citizens alike.

One of the things I admire most about Americans is our willingness and ability to accept different perspectives on just about everything — social issues, political ideals and even favorite TV shows. We are known for being tolerant and welcoming. Yet this past election has shown that many Americans are not as tolerant as we once thought, and I must admit, I’ve had to reevaluate my own level of tolerance.

I am proud to be a liberal Democrat, as I firmly believe in the party’s core values. As progressives, we work hard and advocate for all people to be respected as individuals, especially women and racial, religious and sexual minorities. We also strive for every person to have an equal opportunity to hold a position of power. This tolerance is at the heart of our belief system.

However, I am finding it increasingly difficult to accept others’ opinions that differ from my own. I sometimes condemn anyone who disagrees with me. My belief in tolerance breaks down when I am confronted with someone who holds conservatives views on certain issues or even someone whose values are simply less progressive than my own.

I recognize and struggle with this contradiction, and from discussions I have had with friends and classmates, as well as reading the voluminous commentary on this election, I can see that many other liberals are grappling with this also.

We are of course right to shame the racists, sexists and other bigots who oppose our views; they are not worthy of our open-mindedness. I do not care to understand the reasoning behind their offensive beliefs — I proudly oppose them. We cannot and I will not stop speaking out against sexism, racism and other bigotry when it appears. We must display zero tolerance on that. Period.

On the other hand, while I simply do not understand climate change skeptics, people who resist sensible and necessary gun control measures and those who oppose abortion, I do not think that people who hold some or all of those views are necessarily evil. We simply disagree.

In many cases, conservatives tend to prioritize economic issues over social ones and vote accordingly. We can debate, but I need to be more tolerant and not condemn individuals for holding those beliefs.

When any set of perspectives, including conservative ones, are underrepresented in discussions and a large group of thinkers do not even have a seat at the table, we all lose, as none of us have widened our perspectives or learned anything new. We have merely increased our knowledge of one side of an issue. 

Perhaps more importantly and pragmatically, if we really want to change this country, we need to engage with people who do not already agree with us and work to change their minds. It is difficult to persuade someone by harshly criticizing them.

So I resolve to always continue fighting for my beliefs and standing up against bigotry, but also to listen more and not rush to judgment. To try and persuade. To try and be more open-minded, and yes, to be a little more liberal.