Has American politics always been uncivil? Bliss Institute students discuss if civility is possible

At the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, students and faculty often discuss the need for civility in politics, especially given the current election climate. Graduate student Emily Maher and undergraduate student Connor Shaw recently had a conversation with the Campaign Battleground blog about the increased sense of incivility in political discussion in the United States.

Why is open political discussion among peers important?

Maher: I think being around other people who don’t think like you helps you. It helps you avoid groupthink. I think it’s good to surround yourself with people who don’t agree with everything you say. It makes you more conscious of yourself and your beliefs.

Shaw: But there’s definitely a lot of blending together. Like Emily said, aborting the whole groupthink mentality. At the Bliss Institute, we spread ideas and have civil conversations. The professors also feel the same way. It’s not just the students. We’re all here to learn or to apply our knowledge. It kind of defeats the purpose of the Institute if you’re trying to push one specific way of thinking.

That’s definitely a huge thing. Whether it’s here or even outside of the Bliss Institute, you definitely hear when you’re outside with some people who can’t see past the lies and see past political parties, but there definitely is a level of respect for the opposition or the other way of thinking.

Has there always been incivility in American politics?

Maher: I think there’s always been incivility in politics. I think the internet has made it easier to be uncivil because a lot of the times you’re anonymous. It’s easier to write some things than actually come out and say it. This current campaign atmosphere reflects the growing concerns of incivility. It’s just becoming more acceptable to be loud and proud about being uncivil.

Shaw: Seeing these presidential campaigns, there’s a lot of incivility. That’s sometimes kind of frightening. It shouldn’t be normal. I don’t think I’d say it’s always been like that. I’d like to think that there are some areas that have some decency even though it is politics we’re talking about.

Maher: And I think the loudest opinion sometimes gets the most attention, and we’re seeing that. Think about the political sound bites in our culture and media right now.

Shaw: Absolutely. The smallest opinions are the loudest. It’s a really weird mentality. You have your silent majority and now you have the vocal minority that’s starting to guide the way through a lot of politics.

How can society shift away from uncivil political conversations?

Maher: It needs to be a conscious effort on everybody’s part. It definitely takes effort to be thoughtful about what you say.

Shaw: Because we both work in politics and study politics, I think we’re a lot more likely to do it and I think our generation – millennials – is also a lot more likely. I think we’ve both seen that a lot of our friends and peers are a lot more open to talking about sharing ideas and not being angry with each other’s views. But it would definitely need to be a conscious effort. I don’t think it’s something we could start an ad campaign and end overnight or over a weekend. It’s a work in progress.



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