Can’t We all Just Get Along? The Death of Civility in Politics

May 22, 1856 The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner- https://www.fold3.com/page/641416599-charles-sumner

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

In recent times we have witnessed a steady increase of violence stemming from competing political ideologies. However, political violence is nothing new. Historical examples are plentiful, including the French Revolution, Slavery and the Civil War, racial violence during the Civil Rights era, Nazism and the September 11 attacks. One particularly alarming example that may be akin to what we are seeing at political rallies today is in 1856 the “pro-slavery South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks went into the Senate and beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, an ardent abolitionist, with his cane, nearly killing him.” Although we are shocked by these historical examples, it seems that we are seeing an unfortunate return to a violent political past in America. Social media and the news is full of protesters arguing, getting into fist fights, using clubs and sticks to attack protesters and now recently we see a disturbing increase of people resorting to mass murder because the perpetrators adhere to a white supremacist political ideology.  

In Alan Golds article “The Death of Civility in Politics” he asks several questions:

“Just how rude has today’s life become? And just how much is the tone of our politics to blame? Does it sometimes feel as if our politics has us all backed into our ideological corners? Does it seem as if insults and name-calling have taken the place of civil dialogue – that incivility has gone viral?”

In the article Gold cites New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg who states “I think the country is in crisis… it’s less a result of a breakdown in civility than a breakdown of democracy… We have a crisis of democracy, not manners. I think the demand for civility can be used as a tool of oppression when it only goes in one direction – when you demand civility from the ruled, but you don’t demand civility from the rulers.” Goldberg’s primary argument is that civility has to be a two way street. It has to come from our elected officials as well as the masses.

In a democratic society it is very important that people get to share their voice and that they feel comfortable coming to the table to discuss any subject. However, if certain parameters are not in place and certain guidelines of civility are not in place it can be very difficult to have a meaningful conversation. For example, it can be very difficult to hear when individuals from both sides of a particular debate are talking past one another. It is also difficult to share one’s true feelings if they fear that they will suffer consequences as a result of voicing their opinion.

The concern in the United States today is people’s seeming lack of ability to have any tolerance for opposing socio-political views. It behooves us to try to be more open minded and tolerant of other people’s view and those that disagree with us. There is an increasing need for people to have the ability to have a civil discourse and conversation and not lose one’s temper when someone disagrees with them. The country is divided in many ways, this is ironic because one of the core values of the American democractic society is tolerance, diversity and multiculturalism. America has been known as the melting pot, where individuals from various cultural, racial, political and social backgrounds can co-exist. Scholars have even moved from the metaphor of the melting pot to the salad bowl. With the salad bowl, people do not sacrifice their identity to adopt Euro-American values, instead, they hold on to their cultural background but at the same time embrace what it means to be American. There are growing divisions in US society along many ideological and social lines, these divisions often stem from debates between democrats and republicans, European Americans and people of color, rich and poor, along religious lines and many more. 

The social studies classroom is a great place to teach students the idea of civility. Social studies teachers often have very strong political and sociological views, but should be the first line of defense in demonstrating to students how to be civil. Teachers can set up scenarios where students learn to discuss or debate controversial topics without being disrespectful or worse becoming enraged and acting upon those emotions. I have included some resources below that can help teachers lead students in conversations and exercises surrounding civility and having a civil discourse.

Lessons and Strategies for Civil Discourse
Civil Discourse in the Classroom- Teaching Tolerance
Three Steps to Civil Discourse in the Classroom- National Council for the Social Studies
Promoting and Maintaining Classroom Civility
Teaching Civility Helps Students Look Beyond the Importance of Good Manners
7 ways to teach civil discourse to students

References
Will Politics be the Death of Civility?
National Institute for Civil Discourse
What is Civil Discourse?

35 Comments

  1. The United States was founded on democracy, and it is so sad that it seems like America has forgotten what a true democracy is. Opinions are not something that should be fought against with violence, rather, they should be embraced and argued with words and counter-arguments. Our country has lost almost all civility in political arguments, which shouldn’t be the case. I hope that all teachers can welcome debates and open discussions about differing opinions because it will teach students to argue their side with proper argument etiquette instead of violence.

  2. This topic has been weighing on my mind a lot lately, especially with the political climate. It seems that people cannot even have an intelligent, adult conversation with someone that happens to have a different political view. As soon as you state that you feel one way about something, you are attacked. When Trump came to Cincinnati this summer, one of his supporters physically assaulted a peaceful protester. It’s extremely sad that so many view the United States as a great country where they can come to live a better life and we can’t even be tolerant of other people’s opinions. Just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean you have to attack or belittle someone. I hope something changes soon.

  3. The death of civility in politics is primarily due to the fact that civilians fail to respect the opinions of others. Instead, they immediately resort to violence whether it is physical or verbal. It saddens me to know that people are afraid of speaking their opinions because of the risks associated with doing so. We are all entitled to our own opinions and being beaten or verbally harassed won’t change our views.

  4. Although it outwardly seems as if the United States has made progress on civility in democracy, the same division is essentially just taking a different form. Although the inclination to form your own opinions and stances is great– it is surely done to a fault in a lot of cases. I think opposing stances, in many ways, have become almost encouraged and expected to bring upon division– whether done consciously or unconsciously. Individuals should hold fast to their formed opinions but they also should hold fast to civility. I think I’ve often been influenced that voicing my opinion will result in chaos or conflict, which often leads me to stay silent. Our differences should in a way unite us and be glorified– not build up walls between us. I hope this expectation of violence or hatred based solely on one’s different beliefs is changed. And I hope teachers and other positive figures across the nation use their influence to promote civility and bring awareness to the lack of it.

  5. I have seen this a lot lately as I scroll through social media and see people using foul language while having a heated debate over politics. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and no ones voice should be hushed, but nowadays people have become close minded when it comes to hearing someones differing opinion. I have seen families and friendships torn apart due to an inability to look past someones political stance. In an ideal society we should all be able to come together to create a place that is welcoming to everyone, no matter what political party you identify as. We are all humans who are trying to survive in this world,and we should not make it harder for one another. That is obviously not the case in today’s world, like this article says “this country is in crisis..”, which is in my opinion, due to this being an age of sensitivity and entitlement, we need to be able to come together again to rebuild our broken society.

  6. This is a very broad topic as a whole but this article i will have to agree with because i have been seeing so much diversity not only in social media but if you look around at everyday life you notice it. Not only in the bigger cities but you notice it more in small towns. A lot of today’s society is all about where you come from and how you are raised and many people don’t raise their children to be more open minded toward other cultures or political views and it is tearing this country apart. Now saying that doesn’t mean that those who are more opened minded are right this simply means that they look at other POV’s before stating their opinion. The ones who more open minded can also be the ones who are tearing society apart because they may be the ones who are “shaming” those with only one POV thus creating diversity.

  7. Michelle Goldberg’s statement is something I think all Americans should read. When the serious lack of civility in our country is demonstrated by our government officials, it only provides a terrible example of violent behavior to our citizens who are already divided. If politics are going to be discussed, each party should do their best to listen and not interrupt, have an open mind, and understand that an opinion is just that: an opinion.

  8. In highschool, I was on the speech and debate team. This experience turned me into a bit of an argumentative person, and one thing I have noticed is that when I am having a discussion with someone who has an opposing viewpoint, the longer the debate, the more we dig our heels into our original belief. Even if we are both making valid points, it’s difficult to say that the other person is right. I think most people have this problem, they are so worried about being right that its hard to see other points of view. This is when the incivility begins. It is incredibly important that people, especially public/political figures, is that; one, it is okay to be wrong sometimes and, two, just because someone else is right it doesn’t always mean that you are wrong.

  9. While reading this article I would just think of what I see on a daily basis on social media. Whether it is people ranting at each other or videos of people fighting over their views it seems to be a regular thing. I agree with the article that there is a loss of civility out there. It is as if people can not sit down and talk but must express how they feel with violence. I feel in order for us to move forward we must be more open minded and be able to listen to one another.

  10. I think a reason why this trend of hostile political conversations seems to have risen is due to people living in bubbles. We surround ourselves with people, and primarily consume content from people and organizations, that agree with what we believe. So, when we encounter someone who doesn’t have the same ideology as us, we can become defensive due to the almost disbelief that someone can actually think the way that the other person does. Hostility in political debates and conversations is not a new thing, as shown by the examples in the article. However, it may seem that way to some people due to how often people can be exposed to it now. Older examples, such as Nazism during WWII, were seen daily by those affected by it and those in the countries where it was actively being brought up in peoples lives. People living in other parts of the world and even in America, pre and post-America’s involvement, were not directly affected by it daily and could actively avoid seeing it if they wanted. In current times, people are exposed to hostility in politics while walking through campus, listening to the radio, scrolling through social media, and while sitting down to family dinners. It is not new, and most likely will never go away so long as politics still exist. The only way to start making a change away from it is exhibiting the kind of characteristics through your own actions that you want to see become the norm.

  11. America has failed its “democracy” government. With our current government officials it’s difficult for anyone to show their opinions if it’s not in line with those government officials. Take for example, a few weeks ago, Trump visited Dayton after the shooting there. His route was purposely rerouted to avoid protesters and then when he left the hospital they lined the streets with ambulances so he wouldn’t see protesters. Their voices were being silenced, completely ignoring our first amendment. Everyone is always going to have their own opinions but I hope soon people will keep an open mind to the other side of their beliefs.

  12. As our country is moving forwards in technology, our social media platforms seem to be used to state strong, not always factual, opinions that then lead to the arguments mentioned in this article. Not only is this an issue within politics, but I also believe it aligns with what Dr. Childs mentions about it being difficult to hear opposing sides of debate and leading to a withdrawal from those who would like to share their thoughts but are now afraid of the consequences of doing so. I believe that it is not politics itself that is the issue, but the people (myself included) that contribute to the uncivil attitudes of our present day political conversations.

  13. In my 21 years of life, I have never seen as much hostility towards one party and the other. I feel like we live in a world where no one can sit down and have a civilized discussion on todays issues. For example, here at NKU towards the beginning of the school year we had anti- abortionist and pro- abortionist yelling at each other trying to get their point out. I don’t believe that they realize that they didn’t get their point across, yelling, fussing, and cussing doesn’t lead to civilized and intellectual discussions.

  14. Democracy is what America was founded on. We are all entitled to our own opinions and values. Everyone is different and has a different view point. Its important that we are able to communicate with one another about politics without people simply shutting down when someone doesn’t agree with them. Recently, Americans have become awful at listening to one another, instead resorting to violence.

  15. I believe many see today’s political climate as so “rude” due to how it is so easy to consume media, and to have an outspoken voice in the media. You can always turn on your television and see opinions on the breaking news of the day, at any hour. While that may not be a relatively new thing, the rise of social media is, and it gives anyone who wants it, a platform. Intolerance is not a new issue either, but the spreading of intolerance to everyone can be seen as one, due to the use of social media. People find others who may share the same “rude” views towards individuals on the other side of the political ideological spectrum, and that encourages them to speak out even more. In my opinion, the problem has to begin being solved in the school systems. I agree fully with your notion that social studies classrooms are the most important place of lessons on civility to take place.

  16. The United States is a Republic, founded on the ancient ideals of democratic process. One of the key tenets of this ideal is that all opinions are given a fair chance to be heard and considered. I believe this should continue to be the case, unless the opinions being expressed are that of disgusting or violent nature. No matter how civil you think this country should be I do not think we should ever sink to a level where we allow white supremacists, neo-nazis, or other brands of terrorism to have a fair and open stage to express those beliefs.

  17. You can definitely see the loss of civility in political discource occurring across social media platforms. Meaningful discussions where individuals meet common ground unfortunately do not provide engagement. Insults and jokes fuel many discussions, and it almost seems as if this is the default for any political discussion. Actions of others are seen as being representative of an entire group. While this can ultimately be true, it is dangerous to carry an array of assumptions when engaging with others.

  18. I believe this trend is a result of the republican party becoming more and more conservative ever since the days of Reagan and Bush Senior. The days of the republican party having some centrist and liberal ideals are gone and it is now more than ever us vs them, them being the democratic party. This trend has not only affected congress but the American population as a whole with how people defend and argue for their political party.

  19. Our democracy has fallen apart in our country. Everyone has their own opinions, beliefs and values but in our world today you can’t even discuss your own opinion without being threatened. People protest and fight back when they don’t agree with someone instead of just letting things go. You’re allowed to have your own opinions and in today’s world that doesn’t seem to be the case. Just turn on the news for instance and I’m sure you will see a situation that has to do with two people disagreeing because they have different opinion on something and that is why our country will never be the same and why our democracy has fallen apart.

  20. I think that this is another touchy topic due to some individuals lack of respect and immaturity. Although we all have a right to form our own opinion, I sometimes think that there is a loss of civility in politics due to the arguments that can arise based on different opinions and beliefs.

  21. Social media has developed into a place where one can share extremist political beliefs and opinions and be rewarded for it. It allows people to share unpopular opinions without any serious repercussions and it allows people with these opinions to feel as if they are the norm. This allowance develops an intolerance towards opposing opinions, and what could be productive conversations quickly turn into heated debates and threatening comments. I feel that people sharing these opinions online often do not care about civility because they can remain, in some form, anonymous. I also feel that, as civility has lessened in online conversations, people are starting to believe that it is okay to be less civil when these conversations happen in person. It is important for the idea of civility to be encouraged in all classrooms, especially as the new generation grows up with continuous access to online political conversations where civility is not preferred.

  22. Dr. Childs mentioned how the country is divided in many ways which is ronic because one of the core values of the American democractic society is tolerance, diversity and multiculturalism. This shows are far gone America is and how America need a serious intervention. Civility is a core value of America, yet many Americans today cannot seem to tolerate other types of America nor do Americans today accept the “salad bowl” society anymore and many are voicing it, not in a particular civil way. Part of that discourse for civility is freedom of speech. You can expect people to tolerate others, and value the diverse and multicultural society of today when many rulers have made incivility a common trait one can hold through outlandish forms of free speech.

  23. It feels as though the majority of people in the United States are completely intolerant and close-minded when it comes to other people’s beliefs and opinions. Many people physically and emotionally cannot handle the possibility that someone might think differently than them. With the rise in social media usage, it has become far too easy for people to anonymously write hateful comments and threats while hiding behind a computer screen. Dr. Childs commented on how America is supposed to be a democratic society with tolerance and diversity, but ironically, it has become extremely divided. As future social studies educators, we have the unique ability to make a difference and break this divide. We must teach our students how to be civil and respectful of other people’s ideas and beliefs. We must help instill open-mindedness and acceptance in the hearts of our students at a young age and teach them that it is more than okay to be different.

  24. The part that stood out to me from the article was the quote stating, “The concern in the United States today is people’s seeming lack of ability to have any tolerance for opposing socio-political views.” It is saddening to know how far we have come not only as a country, but also a society where we struggle to listen to opposing views and be tolerant. Two of the founding concepts of our country was on diversity and acceptance of each other’s differences, making our nation a Melting Pot. Teaching the concepts of debate and discussion with civility and respect is something that needs to be practiced more often, and hopefully teachers can start showing students what that looks like.

  25. As I read this article, I regularly reflected back to the interactions I myself have had and the interactions I have witnessed on news and social media outlets. I believe a large portion of the lack of civility amongst individuals is due to a lack of open-mindedness and mutual respect for one another. Often when an individual disagrees on a topic, individuals feel threatened and that they are being judged or attacked for their views. When this happens, these individuals often lash out at the other in an attempt to make themselves feel better. If we are to address this issue, we must first teach students that it is okay to disagree with one another. Also, that disagreement does not equate to disrespect in any means. It is critical that we foster environments that allow students to develop civility in a way that will hopefully counteract the displays currently shown on the news and social media outlets relating to disagreements.

  26. I feel that there are multiple reasons that there is a lack of civility in politics. One reason that stuck with me was a quote from New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg that is discussed in the article “Can’t We all Just Get Along? The Death of Civility in Politics”, Civility must come from our elected officials as well as the masses. It has been clear in politics lately that our elected officials do not know how to act civil towards one another, or the people they represent. In the 2016 presidential debate, both presidential candidates acted quite uncivil toward one another. Name calling and talking over one another are things you expect to witness in primary grade levels, not from potential leaders of our country. Another example of a lack of civility is Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. Bevin seeks to find a replacement for the pension system. Instead of acting properly toward teachers of Kentucky, Bevin instead blames them for children being left in the way of harm due to teacher protests that closed schools. Attacking an opposing political candidate or a group that disagrees with policy that you are trying to put in place does not solve problems. Instead, it further deepens the political divide between Left and Right.
    I also feel that it is crucial as social studies teachers that we teach our students how to be civil towards others, especially when they disagree. Teachers often say that “those who will change the future are in our classrooms today”. This is why it is so crucial to teach civility, as to better the future generations over what we have throughout history, and currently are currently experiencing.

  27. I think the United States needs to have a complete political culture shift, which is always a difficult thing to do, but the US has a long history of being active in political conversation, and yet at the same time have a desperate need to be “correct” leading to a close minded attitude. This is very counterintuitive and snuffs out intellectual conversation. This history of political fighting has been brought to the forefront and has become more and more common due to the increase of social media and instant connection and has caused party gaps to grow so far that many cannot even have a civil political conversation, this leads many Americans to say that they hate talking politics and causes people to be less active in their government while those extreme close minded people to be more focused on and active in the government. I feel like the united states needs a shift in attitude towards politics and I think it would be valuable for kids to learn in schools how to debate and how to have these civil political conversations. There is very little defined correct and incorrect within a political stance, and I think it is so incredibly important for people to understand, at the very least, why someone of an opposite stance may feel the way they do. People think the goal of a political conversation is to convince the person you are talking to to think like you and to realize your “correct” but if we want to stop the violence and close mindedness of the current political climate we must shift the way we have these conversations. To realize they are for both sides to learn and understand each other, and if that brings a change in thought, great, if not it was still a chance to understand and sympathize with another person even if you do not necessarily agree.

  28. This is something I have been trying to tell people for a while! In order for real change to happen we must be able to look past our disagreements and try to find compromises that will please both sides. People clinging to their individual views rather than trying to see another person’s point of view keep us in a never ending cycle of no solutions being made because the ability or willingness to make compromises has disappeared.

  29. The metaphor of the salad bowl I think is a great way of describing how all of the individuals of America want to live their life. In American alone there are many different cultural differences when simply driving an hour out of your home town. The salad bowl creates the idea that everyone can have their own cultural aspects and keep their identities and history. By having the idea that we can all function in the same society with our own values we help create civility among the people. With civility there is an even space for all people to be heard, which is the point of democracy, and a fundamental part of America.

  30. This is a very well written article! I agree with you saying that we all need to find compromises or a common ground in order to resolve situations. I believe that the United States needs to have a complete shift in regards to politics and and culture. We let our emotions get involved in so much and it creates a lot of issues for our country!

  31. This has been a rising issue for quite some time but especially since the 2016 election. Political parties are more divided than ever. Today, if someone has a differing point of view regarding politics they most likely will not associate with one another. In our country we are supposed to be free to have our own mindsets and opinions but lately people are getting verbally and sadly sometimes physically assaulted for having opposing opinions as someone else. It is not the fault of one political party. It is the fault of the radicals of both political parties who simply can not tolerate other humans. This has been a downward spiral and people are getting hurt because of it. Something has got to change soon.

  32. In times like these which really make the phrase: “United we stand, divided we fall” hold so much more weight as we watch division strike through the country, tearing apart each piece of unity which we have spent years cultivating. It is crazy to see our country, founded on the idea of true freedom, be torn apart by the very thing it prides itself on. Our freedom of speech has evolved in ways never before dreamed of, as people, fueled only by anger and disgust, turn into mass murderers in the blink of an eye when someone simply does not agree with them. As both a women and a person of religion, I have felt the hate first hand and often fear the results of speaking my mind in a place filled with people against me, and I know that this is true throughout America, as having a civilized discussion between two different opinions has become nearly impossible. It is a scary path we as a country have begun treading down and we can only hope that we can make the decision to step back, realize our mistakes, and turn towards a better and brighter future.

  33. I think the problem of civility in politics is not only a problem in the U.S. but also in countries throughout the world. Not only civility but violence when it comes to achieving political gain is an issue. Too many political issues are attempted to be achieved through violence and once they are achieved through violence and unending cycle of violence and corruption in government takes place. The perfect example of this in the modern world is the struggle for power in Venezuela. Citizens claim a leader to be corrupt and demand their head only for a new leader to come in that is just as corrupt as the last restarting the cycle. For true political change to happen and become a permanent change, this change must be achieved through civil and non-violent means.

  34. This is something I have not thought about before. Certainly politics have always been a high-steaks issue even in ancient societies. I also liked some of the examples that were listed in the article since they can be observed as true. We are always probably going to have people get overly-agressive with people whose political ideologies are opposite of their own.

  35. I believe a lot of the death of chivalry in politics has to do with the news. I see on news networks that lean toward both sides just attack people for anything and everything even if it has nothing to do with the thing they are arguing about or even to spread lies. I find this not only disgraceful but harmful towards democracy when people stop listening to each other they start to put up walls and make each other feel different and people hate what is different, this is turns just causes hatred and violence in the world. I think the American people should stop getting their news from all of these large biased news sources that are just publishing fake news for views and money and turning a blind eye to the real issues.

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