The CNN town hall on gun control was a failure. And that's good for our democracy.

Why America needs to see more political debates where no one "wins"

Marco Rubio and students at a CNN town hall.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Michael Laughlin/Pool)

Americans are addicted to cheap political sentiment. "Own the libs" has become a kind of motto for much of the right, some members of whom recently resorted to mocking survivors of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The left, overwhelmed by the tidal wave of contemptible sludge emanating from this White House, tilts at it with angry, constant, and useless charges of hypocrisy. Conversation isn't exactly easy in this climate. We communicate in memes. The problem is partly that we appear to have lost any format that allows for sincere, substantive disagreement. Networks have long since calcified TV "debates" into spectacles so rote they're almost dance-like in their predictability. We'd rather preach to the choir than really engage.

That seems to finally be changing. Take the #NeverAgain movement started by survivors of the Florida school shooting that killed 17. These teens mobilized with passion, speed, anger, and savvy against the gridlock we mistake for pragmatism in this political climate. Their achievements have shocked a country that no longer really believes in political solutions. Wednesday night's CNN town hall was historic, and not because the confrontation between a grieving community and its representatives is unprecedented (it's not, and it shouldn't have been as impressive as it was to see lawmakers facing their angry constituents). It's historic because no one came out of that town hall the clear victor, and we as a society aren't used to political disagreements that don't end with an obvious "win." But uncomfortable confrontations like these, in which there is no conversion or resolution or repentance on either side, are real and instructive. We need to see many more of them.

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Lili Loofbourow

Lili Loofbourow is the culture critic at She's also a special correspondent for the Los Angeles Review of Books and an editor for Beyond Criticism, a Bloomsbury Academic series dedicated to formally experimental criticism. Her writing has appeared in a variety of venues including The Guardian, Salon, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, and Slate.