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« Liberals and the White Working Class | Main | The Al Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner »


Civility and Political Discourse

By Angelo Lopez
October 15, 2016

When I watched the second Presidential debate, I couldn't believe the depths that Trump went to in attacking Hillary Clinton. Trump has based his entire presidential campaign focused on personal attacks with little policy specifics.

I think civility is an important component in the political discourse of this country. In a democratic republic, one of the challenges is to get people of different opinions and outlooks to get involved in the political process to find common ground and decide on political decisions. Dan Glickman wrote a wonderful post for the Huffington Post titled Civility No More: Where Are the Better Angels In Politics?. He wrote:

In 1860 as this nation stood on the brink of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln implored Americans and their political leaders to think of, “the better angels of our nature,” before committing totally to the dissolution of the Union.

To plea for civility during one of the most bitter and divisive periods of American history was an attempt to call on a cultural tenet of respect for those with whom you disagree. The value of civility was a necessary component of our culture at our founding because we are a union of different states, then led by people with different ideas of how a federal state should look, but all committed to the idea of the freedom of belief and expression. Such an entity created by people holding divergent views cannot exist without basic elements of civility and respect for your fellow politicians and citizens. We learned early on to disagree agreeably.

Today, things are different. We have witnessed a substantial erosion of civility in political discourse in contemporary politics. In my view, the end of civility in our political system is a true loss for every American, Republican and Democrat alike...

...The state of contemporary politics is one in which bombast is met with approval. Extreme viewpoints are greeted with appreciative nods by a disturbingly large segment of the American electorate, and so the incentive for political leaders to make such comments is significant. Of course, there have always been and will always be people in a free and democratic country such as this who hold views that are extreme or unpopular, and it is their right to do so. But in this country politicians weren’t always so easily able to accrue benefit from being egomaniacal, indecent, uncivil and frankly just plain rude.

Yohuru Williams wrote a great article for the American Bar Association titled A Matter of Integrity: Civility and Political Discourse. Williams wrote in his article:

No one would deny that language is impor­tant and while the First Amendment protects speech, it does not remove the individuals’ responsibility to be respectful in their use of language. With a far greater means of amplifying their message, elected officials have an even greater responsibility to be judicious in their communication respecting the rules of debate and civil discourse for the benefit of the entire body politic and ensuring truthfulness.

A powerful recent example best illustrates this point. At a political ral­ly in Ohio in October of 2008, Arizona Senator John McCain responded to an attendee’s reference to then-candidate Barack Obama as a disloyal Muslim Arab with, “No, no ma’am he’s a decent, family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamen­tal issues, and that’s what this campaign is about.”

The televised exchange won praise for McCain, whose forthright decision to tackle the false allegations tran­scended his own political aspirations, a show of integrity that remains uncom­mon...

...Legal scholar Christopher Eis­gruber has observed that “American government aspires to be both demo­cratic and just. . . . To insist that justice and democracy coincide,” he continues “makes heavy, but we may hope, not impossible demands upon the Ameri­can people.” Those heavy demands call upon us individually and collectively to reflect on our own behavior and its impact on our life and government. If we collectively do not accept responsi­bility for the manner in which we care for our democracy, we will share the blame when it no longer functions as the Founders intended.

Civility is not always about what is lawful, but what is respectful. It is how the personal influences the politi­cal. The lesson to take away from pub­lic officials in their best moments from George Washington to John McCain is never to lose sight of the humanity of those with whom we disagree. To be honest and respectful in our discourse is as much a means of ensuring the golden rule as preserving our democ­racy, frail and imperfect, but far more desirable than the alternative.

Here is a youtube video of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump questioned whether John McCain is a "war hero" at an event in Iowa.

Donald Trump raised eyebrows by seemingly attacking Carly Fiorina's looks. During the second GOP debate, she responded

In this youtube video Donald Trump mocks Jeb Bush as being "Low Energy"

In this video Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigned in Warren, Mich., criticizing Marco Rubio as "Little Marco"

In this video Donald Trump made controversial comments claiming there is a connection between Ted Cruz’s father and Lee Harvey Oswald

In this video Donald Trump attacked Ted Cruz's wife

In this video Donald Trump called Paul Ryan and John McCain as being weak and ineffective

In this video Donald Trump labeled Hillary Clinton as being "Crooked Hillary"

This video is a compilation of Donald Trump's insults during the Republican primaries and the general campaign


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