Ryan delivers soaring speech on civility and dangers of Twitter to interns

Greg Nash

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday delivered a soaring speech to congressional interns focused on civility and the dangers of social media like Twitter. But he did so without mentioning the elephant in the room: President Trump.

Since taking office a year and a half ago, the president has caused fits for the retiring Speaker by refusing to condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville, bashing any tough stories as “fake news” and name-calling House and Senate Republicans who’ve publicly criticized him.

{mosads}But the Speaker rarely has directly called out Trump by name. And Wednesday’s address in the Capitol was no exception. 

Ryan, a former congressional intern himself, lamented the “tribalism and identity politics” that has made it harder for members of opposite parties to sit down with each other, find common ground and come up with legislative solutions for the country.

And he argued that Twitter and other social media were helping to sow those divisions. Twitter is Trump’s preferred medium of communication, and he uses it frequently to blast out messages to his more than 53 million followers.

“Social media just amplifies all of these trends. It is an industry where you can make money feeding fear and resentment,” Ryan told hundreds of interns who had packed a Capitol auditorium. “We are caught in this paradox where we are more connected than ever, but we could not feel more disconnected or more alienated.”

Simply speaking respectfully, even while disagreeing, can lead to a more civil debate and a stronger society, Ryan said. 

“We can also rediscover our common humanity by improving the tone and raising the level of our debates. It is well-trodden ground to note that we need to disagree without being disagreeable,” Ryan said. “But this is not just about good manners; it is about the manner of how we govern. It is about our ability to solve problems.

“Civility is a civic imperative. A healthy discourse allows us to navigate our disagreements in the search for common ground. To accept good ideas, even if our side didn’t come up with them,” Ryan went on.

“At this point, we have reduced our debates to a stream of hot takes and tweets.”

Ryan, who will leave the House in January after a nearly 20-year congressional career, said he’s constantly attacked on Twitter but chooses “not to respond in kind but to respond with kindness.”

“I know that snark sells, but it doesn’t stick. It doesn’t last. It doesn’t unite people around a bigger idea or a greater cause,” he said. 

When Ryan was first elected to Congress at the age of 28, he said he received some great advice over breakfast from a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts: Barney Frank.

“He told me that what he loved about the House is how it is a genuine meritocracy. You get ahead based on the power of your ideas and your ability to make a persuasive case for them,” Ryan recalled.   

“These days, we don’t even really set out to persuade anymore. We just hit each over the head until the music stops.”

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