Oct 9, 2018

Reviving Civility During and After Campaign Season

Campaign season is a time that, unfortunately, tends to bring out the worst in American politics. Far too often, mudslinging and name calling are prioritized over respectful dialogue. With political polarization at a seemingly all-time high, it often appears that people would rather argue than listen to another person’s view—and with the midterm elections less than a month away, these sentiments are heightened.

Although this way of participating in the election process has become the norm, not that long ago, civility in campaigning was still alive. Take, for example, the late Sen. John McCain defended then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama against a divisive criticism from a Republican voter.

And despite today’s rising tensions and increasing contentiousness, it’s possible to revive civility in American politics. Just last year, members of the House freshmen class pledged their commitment to this principle and designated July 12 as an annual National Day of Civility. With over 75% of Americans saying that it’s important that political discourse be respectful, it’s more important than ever that we revive civility in politics. Here’s how:

  1. Keep an open mind. Before heading to the polling place on November 6, make sure you have the facts and have heard both sides. Townhalls and debates are both great places to hear candidates’ stances on issues that impact you.
  2. Seek common ground. It can be difficult to agree on solutions, but agreement on the problems is often easier and can lead to finding common ground. Despite diverse backgrounds and ideals, Americans have more in common than not. Identifying points of agreement is an important step to confronting our nation’s challenges.
  3. Listen respectfully without trying to change someone’s mind. There’s often no one perfect solution to an issue, which is why it’s important to genuinely listen to someone’s opinion without correcting them or trying to change their mind. A diversity of opinions and solutions makes America stronger.
  4. Demand civility from your elected officials. Tweet, call, or email your representatives and ask them to practice civility. You can also call on your member of Congress to support Res. 400, which calls on members of Congress to support the National Day of Civility and promote civility in their day-to-day lives.
  5. Join a community discussion. Civil discourse starts at the local level, and groups like the National Institute for Civil Discourse, Bridge Alliance, and The Village Square are working to bridge divides in communities across America by bringing people together for civil conversations to identify areas of common ground.

Once this fall’s elections have passed, how can we help translate the concept of civility into practical action in Washington?  Reforming the rules and norms that govern how Congress does business can help incentivize changes in the way lawmakers approach legislating and interacting with one another.  It may not alter the atmosphere overnight, but it is a step in the right direction, and yet another reason we need to demand a Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress.

Is Congress Working for You?