Searching for civility

The missing piece in American democracy


Maya Markowicz/Talon

With the general election weeks away, incivility is a serious concern in today’s political climate.

“Be polite.” 

It’s something we’ve all heard in our colorful kindergarten classrooms, yet it’s something clearly missing from the social fabric of America. It seems as though political tensions in the U.S. are at an all time high. From a recent spike in homicides to over 30 million people unemployed (roughly 20% of American workers), the stakes are unimaginable. However, if we want to affect change, we must not abandon this fundamental principle of civility. 

It’s clear that many Americans are very passionate about politics and their vision of the nation. Maybe you are. But the necessity for good-faith discussions, reasonable debate and polite conversation cannot be understated when it comes to realizing lofty political goals. Without these standards for political discourse, what are we left with? Violence, chaos and bitterness toward the fellow American. 

This is simply a matter of fact. A nationwide survey conducted by KRC Research found that 70% of Americans believe incivility has risen to crisis levels and 81% think uncivil behavior is leading to an increase in violence. Unfortunately, this data is not surprising. The list of politically-charged attacks has a few names that would stand out to anyone: the El Paso shooting, Charlottesville car attack and the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting to name a few. 

Politics should be a relentless war of ideas, fought with logical appeals, bloodied by powerful rebuttals and with statistics as the weapons we brandish. But it seems politics has turned into a literal war, with violence and threats being seen by some as a necessary means to a supposedly altruistic end. Violence ought to be condemned universally if we desire a better America. Changed minds, not bruises, should be the mark of political progress. 

Incivility also paints a blurry picture of the average American’s political beliefs. When incivility is so common, and often stems from political discussions, it is fair to assume that some people would rather avoid the topic altogether — never candidly speaking about their political beliefs. A recent survey by Cato Institute reported that 62% of Americans say they have political beliefs that they are afraid to share. Thus, our idea of the American political landscape is only truly representative of 38% of the population.

By bringing back principles of civility, people will feel more comfortable sharing their political beliefs — effectively expanding the amount of Americans who participate in the political system. After all, isn’t that the goal of democracy? To cultivate an inclusive political system run for the people, by the people? I certainly think so.

The process of restoring the social fabric does not start with politicians (though hopefully we get there). It starts with you. Have a good-faith conversation with someone you disagree with. Be open to changing your mind and genuinely try to find the best solution to a problem. Peacefully protest. Write. Vote (if you can). Be open to entertaining ideas that are different from your own. 

Moreover, civility transcends politics. If people are happier in a general sense, we as Americans can feel more united with one another. Hold the door open for someone, smile at a stranger. These small acts can cause a silent revolution that will overthrow incivility.