Cooke: Civil discourse is more important now than ever

Cody Cooke

an American flag
As states across the country count votes, an American flag flies over the Plaza on Nov. 4, 2020. (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

I watched the events at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6 live on cable news, and I could not help but feel a bit overwhelmed by the moment. Americans were turning on one another, on their own elected representatives, all because of former President Donald Trump’s persistent false claims about election results.


How had we gotten here? Where do we go after this? What can “we the people” do to ensure nothing like this ever happens again?

The first and most fundamental thing that everyone, from lawmakers to students at Colorado State University, can do to truly safeguard our democracy is practice and insist on honest, ethical discourse. Nothing can change for the better until we start having truly fair conversations in which compromise, not victory, is the ultimate goal.

For a clear example of dishonest, unethical discourse, look at Trump’s “Save America” rally, which took place just hours before the Capitol insurrection. Although Trump was there to “lay out just some of the evidence” proving that he had won the election, he spent almost half an hour repeating that claim without giving any evidence.

crowd surrounds a man holding flags in Old Town Square in Fort Collins
Members of the Fort Collins community gather in Old Town Square as a man carries an American flag and Donald Trump flag on Nov. 7, 2020. (Cat Blouch | The Collegian)

Before finally getting to the evidence — which still didn’t validate his claimshe made fun of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for being too small to play football, bragged about his past friendship with Oprah Winfrey and called the American press “the enemy of the people” and “the biggest problem we have in this country.” The former president’s rhetoric relied on exaggerated, unsupported claims and rambling digressions unrelated to his central purpose.

Later that night, I watched our own Democratic Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse speak in opposition to Republican Rep. Scott Perry’s objection to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. Perry’s problem with the votes had to do with the constitutionality of state courts deciding voting procedures instead of state legislatures.

Neguse’s objection to Perry, however, had nothing to do with that point. Neguse instead said, “I carry the same constitution that you do.” He railed against the terrifying actions of the mob, urging everyone to put politics aside and “get back to the work of the American people.”

I fail to see why it’s so difficult for our civil leaders to practice straightforward debate. If there was a genuine problem with Perry’s claims, Neguse had both the opportunity and the responsibility to explain why that problem was invalid. Instead, he expressed sentiments that everyone in that room already agreed upon, leaving the central issue in question unacknowledged and unresolved.

When Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb described objections to the election results as lies, Republican Rep. Andy Harris yelled out in anger. A confrontation escalated between Harris and Democratic Rep. Colin Allred until they had to be physically separated.

Our ability to reach understandings nonviolently is arguably humanity’s most beneficial and sustainable trait. Without that, we’re stuck in vicious and destructive cycles of misunderstanding.”

Even after that day’s events, even after they had come back to the halls of democracy where civil debate is supposed to thrive, these lawmakers couldn’t help but resort to a screaming match. To be fair, everyone was probably on edge, but that is not a good enough excuse for members of Congress.

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of our current political discourse is the persistent “us versus them” mentality that turns simple discussions into incoherent verbal battles. It runs rampant in both major parties, and it undoubtedly had something to do with the scuffle between Harris and Allred. It is as if our politics are about “us” beating “them” more than they are an attempt by everyone to build a better world for everyone.


After the debate, Sen. Cory Gardner approaches former Gov. John Hickenlooper for a congratulatory elbow-bump Oct. 13, 2020. (Lucy Morantz | The Collegian)

Bad discourse is more than a political problem. It inhibits the constructive capabilities of everything we do, from maintaining relationships to explaining what was wrong with our meal at a restaurant. Our ability to reach understandings nonviolently is arguably humanity’s most beneficial and sustainable trait. Without that, we’re stuck in vicious and destructive cycles of misunderstanding.

The second president of the United States John Adams once wrote, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

It seems clear that the most fundamental condition needed to sustain a democracy is the free and ethical discourse of ideas and perspectives. If each and every one of us does not actively work against unfair rhetoric, misinformation and the refusal to compromise, then our nation may kill itself.

Cody Cooke can be reached at or on Twitter @CodyCooke17.