Seeking Civility in Political Discourse

Something about politics makes people appear loony. The animus that it produces is astonishing. Not only do politicians and pundits keep displaying such animus, but critics of the politicians and pundits keep displaying it, too.

These days, finding civility in political discourse is like – to borrow a scene from the SpongeBob SquarePants TV show – finding the hay in the needle stack.

While pondering the reasons for a lack of civility in political discourse, I thought of the following.

Conflict Between the “I” Mentality vs. the “We” Mentality
In their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien describe the differences between Western thinking and Eastern thinking. In his review of the book, Robert Letham writes, “Richards and O’Brien contrast the rampant individualism of American society with the corporate and collectivist cultures that prevail in the East.” In short, the “I” mentality that dominates much of Western thought conflicts with the “We” thinking of Eastern thought.

That “We” thinking isn’t limited to Eastern societies. Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile explains:

“Most of my white brothers and sisters place a great emphasis on individualism and meritocracy. Most of my African American brothers and sisters, we’ve had a group experience. Our experience in this country has been defined first and foremost by this pigment that we share. So when we have these conversations about how to make progress, African Americans go to group experience pretty quickly. We speak in ‘we.’ And white Americans go pretty quickly to individual and speak of ‘I.’”

Disagreement about the Job of Government
Back when I attended meetings of the Libertarian Party, Libertarians repeatedly told me that the only legitimate job of the government is to protect people from force and fraud. That Libertarian belief clashes with the U.S. Constitution, which describes the job of the U.S. government as being more than just protecting people from force and fraud.

The polar opposite of the Libertarian belief is the belief that Uncle Sam should play the role of Santa Claus not only for people in the USA but also for non-Americans living outside the USA. This particular belief is the motive behind some complaints made about President Trump’s policy decisions. For example, people complained when President Trump reinstated the so-called “Mexico City Policy”, “which bars international non-governmental organizations that perform or promote abortions from receiving US government funding.”

Profitability of Incivility
Professional pundits need audiences in order to profit financially, and – like it or not – incivility in punditry attracts audiences. Professional pundits are in the business that they are in in order to benefit them, not the American public, and if incivility on their part is accepted by their audiences, then the incivility continues.

So, what about us who are seeking civility in political discourse? What can we do to promote civility?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have to start by looking in a mirror. I first need to consider how I may have added to the existing incivility. I have to admit that I am as flawed as everyone else, and in the heat of debate, I may have contributed to the problem that I want to go away. Then I need to repent of any contribution that I have made to incivility.

Second, when responding to a pundit or critic, I need to keep in mind a lesson from the Tanakh: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It doesn’t matter if others respond to me with incivility. What matters is that I not respond to them with incivility. Fighting fire with fire isn’t the tactic that I need to be using.

Third, I need to reconsider how I talk about public figures. I should be able to criticize their words and deeds without resorting to name-calling. I confess that I have been guilty of name-calling when it comes to public figures. I apologize for doing so.

No, humility and repentance aren’t bad things when one wants civility.

Then again, perhaps not everyone wants civility. Perhaps that is the biggest cause of the incivility. I hope that I am mistaken.

I do believe that it is possible to find civility in political discourse. That is because someone managed to find the hay in the needle stack.

By the way, there is someone who is tougher than Chuck Norris.

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  • Hank_M

    Let the left, which has taken over academia, hollywood, the MSM and everything else that guides politiical discourse show us how it’s done. The right will gladly take their cue.

  • Fuck no.

  • pennywit

    So, what about us who are seeking civility in political discourse? What can we do to promote civility?

    Nothing. The people have made it known that they reward outrageousness over civility. So be it.

    “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” — HL Mencken

  • Retired military

    Try telling your democrat friends to be civil.
    Remember that according to them Trump is Hitler and the GOP medical plan is stirring up hatred, anything said against Obama is racist and anything said against Hillary is seixist.

    • Brett Buck

      Calls for civility *always* favor the most aggressive, and the people willing to take the first shot. Which in our case, is always the liberals.

  • TheyTukRJobz

    Well, the anonymity of the net does allow us to insult and escalate disagreements into flame wars without having any real skin in the game. There is no social cost to it; no shunning from polite society, no being called out, no being made to sleep on the couch – nothing.

    But in addition to that proclivity to intemperate treatment of our political opponents, there is this mentality on the left to declare anybody who disagrees with them as being: racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, bigoted, fascist, hating the poor, anti-science, anti-education, etc. That is not necessarily their conclusion at the end of the debate, either; it is the STARTING position of most of their political arguments.

    Just sayin’ what I’m seein’.

  • jim_m

    Let’s be clear: It is the left, exclusively so, that encourages violence on their behalf and seeks to capitalize on that violence conducted to advance their agenda, while posing as against that violence after they have consolidated their gains.

    The left has promoted riots in our inner cities (see Ferguson and Baltimore recently, see LA, Detroit and elsewhere in the past), they have promoted riots on our campuses (See Berkeley and Missou), they have faked hate crimes (see nearly every freaking campus in the country and nearly every claimed hate crime after Trump’s election).

    The left exists today ONLY because they are built on lies and hate. They are today, inimicable to the existence of civil society and the rule of law. To point, as David does, to everywhere but the left and complain about incivility is nothing more than to excuse the violence, hatred and lies from the left and to advance the same.

  • Wild_Willie

    The left is out of control. They have the MSM, Hollywood and most universities and they lost big time in November. They can’t handle it. They do not know what to do so they resort to human’s base instinct and that is to do harm to their enemies. So precedent has been set for the future of political discourse. It is violence and obscenity. ww