Fear and anger have been the dominant expressions of emotion throughout this campaign. Those emotions have been intentionally and artfully evoked and provoked again and again. This has created divisions between neighbors, friends, co-workers and fellow parishioners. Now it is up to all of us to do something about this reality.
It should be no surprise that 63 percent of Americans say the 2016 election has been “extremely or very uncivil,” up from just 20 percent in 2012. Profound damage has been done to this country through extreme incivility, calls for violence, blatant racism, sexism, and disrespect. So where do we go from here?
Our first step must be to revive civility and respect. Our democracy depends on it.
Democracy is built on cooperation and compromise. We can only solve the issues facing our country when we work together. Unfortunately, in recent years, our leaders have put partisanship before policy and stymied our progress as a nation.
It’s a simple fact that when our politicians snipe at each other like bickering children instead of actually debating the issues, our government ceases to function. If this continues, we will not be able to pass immigration reform, fix our tax code, protect the environment, update labor laws, reform our criminal justice system … and the list goes on.
Politics is the only realm where it’s acceptable to treat your coworkers as mortal enemies, and that’s wrong. This is not a model for a functioning democracy. Politics should not be a blood sport — our leaders should respect each other and work together. We need to call on our next President and the next Congress to take stock, set a new direction and return to standards of civility and respect, working together to serve our nation.
It is indicative of how far we have fallen that just over half of Americans today believe elected officials should pursue personal friendships with members of other parties. In the last six years, that figure has fallen nearly 30 percent. Think about that for a moment: half of Americans believe those with different political views are unworthy of their friendship. This is a worrying trend that will only leave our country more divided and unable to function.
The National Institute for Civil Discourse has worked diligently throughout this election to revive civility and get our nation back on track. We watched with dismay as the election spiraled further and further out of control. But while we’ve seen terrible acts of incivility, in recent weeks, we have also witnessed a national conversation grow around the importance of civility for a functioning society. We must embrace this and work to repair the damage this election has done to our national civility.
After this election, each and every one of us must step up in whatever ways we can to reestablish the norms of civility and respect. Yes, we must hold the media and the candidates responsible for exacerbating deep divides between races, classes, genders, regions and parties. But we must also reflect on whether we, as individuals, have closed our minds and hearts to whole categories of people.
Over the next several weeks, each of us should identify one person on whom we have closed the door – and we must seek to reopen that door. Invite your neighbor to a BBQ. Grab a beer with your uncle. If you unfollowed a friend from high school on Facebook, remind yourself that they are part of your community that is worth nurturing. We should remember our relationships as they were before the election. We can’t let the tone and tenor of this election define us.
We all have our work cut out for us to revive our national civility. Let’s do it together.
Lukensmeyer is the Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a non-partisan organization based at the University of Arizona dedicated to promoting healthy and civil political debate. #ReviveCivility
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