What Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), the revered former First Lady, said in 1960 holds true today: “We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together. And, if we are to live together, we will have to talk.”
So, let’s talk. Today we witness incivility between politicians, dirty election campaigns, outright hatred when someone disagrees with a political stance and elected public servants who open their mouth before engaging their brain (e.g., “liberals are unhinged”-Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), “basket of deplorables”-Hillary Clinton (D), etc.).
Democrats and Republicans are more divided today than ever. From the largest study of American political attitudes (Pew Research Center), 92 percent of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat and 94 percent of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican. Most diehard-unyielding-stubborn partisans believe the opposing party’s politics “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”
Incivility too often dominates America’s public discourse (Weber Shandwick Poll):
• A record high 69 percent believe we have a major civility problem
• 75 percent feel our incivility is a crisis
• 79 percent report the 2016 U.S. Presidential election was uncivil
• 86 percent believe political incivility affects our reputation
• 97 percent say it is important for the President to be civil
The American Psychological Association notes the “current political climate” is the fourth most common source of stress they observe from their clients, closely behind the future of our nation, money and work. Sixty percent of Americans believe we are at the lowest point in our nation’s history.
In far too many instances: 1) rudeness, disrespect and hostility sideline collaboration and compromise, 2) sound bites replace sound journalism, 3) extremes on either end of the political spectrum upend political dialogue and 4) the public is enraged at our leaders’ inability to tackle our most pressing problems.
Five factors have brought us to this critically low point: money in politics, gerrymandering political boundaries, restrictive voter ID laws, 24/7 news cycle and social media.
Research is replete we are an uncivil nation and on a self-destructive path.
Help is on the horizon. The Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University, in cooperation with the National Institute for Civil Discourse, will be hosting seven meetings throughout Iowa where citizens can learn strategies to have productive conversations across differences and engage, civilly, with elected officials. Candidates seeking public office will learn how to run a civil-above-the-fray campaign. And journalists will learn how they can play a more positive role during political campaigns.
Amy Smit, Associate Director at The Ray Center, feels attending one of the seven meetings will be extremely valuable. She notes, “through active listening, Americans can begin to better understand their fellow citizens’ perspectives and develop more tolerance toward those who think very differently than they do.”
A desire to change the tone of our democracy will ONLY occur if you, your neighbor, policy makers, civic groups, business people, educators, students, faith based communities, media leaders and politicians seeking public office participate.
Save The Date: The host site and date of upcoming civility-based Community Conversations, all occurring at 4-6 p.m., include: 1) Waterloo’s Hawkeye Community College-July 10, 2) Pella’s Central College-July 31, 3) Sioux City’s Public Library-August 14, 4) Dubuque’s Grand River Center-August 21, 5) Cedar Rapids’ Downtown Library-August 23, 6) Carroll’s Carrollton Inn-September 18 and 7) Des Moines’s Drake University-September 25.
To attend, RSVP at ReviveCivility.org/Iowa or call 515-271-1910. With civility, there is hope for Iowa and America.
Steve Corbin is Professor Emeritus of Marketing, University of Northern Iowa, and a 1966 graduate of Nevada High School.