The National Institute for Civil Discourse states 78 percent of Americans believe incivility and political dysfunction prevent the nation from moving forward.
Americans now report they would be more frustrated if their child married someone from the opposing political party than someone of another race, according to Bill Manny, the producer at Idaho Public Television.
The deep political divides in the country have stifled bipartisan cooperation and have caused hateful rhetoric among political opponents and supporters. But as the political sphere becomes more divisive, so does the citizenry.
To help find a solution in local communities, around 250 people attended the Civility Project Luncheon and Forum on Tuesday on the campus of Lewis-Clark State College. The event was sponsored by the Lewiston Tribune, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and LCSC.
Panel members included former Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a Republican; former Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick, a Democrat; and Manny, a veteran journalist.
“How can we accommodate each other’s perspectives in order to do something for the common good if it has degenerated to the point where people can’t shake hands and they rip up speeches?” Minnick asked following the recent State of the Union address. “This is not the way democracy is supposed to work and if it continues to work this way, I fear for democracy.”
Minnick and Otter are the co-chairmen for Idaho’s advisory board for the National Institute for Civil Discourse. The institute, based in Washington, D.C., helps elected officials come together to find solutions to issues around the country.
The discussion about civil discourse is more timely than ever, according to Minnick, who served as a U.S. representative for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District.
“It should be the political issue that’s most addressed as we enter an election cycle and we ought to both support and insist that the candidates ... running for offices at every level start treating their opponents not as founders of different ideas, but as human beings and as deserving of respect,” Minnick said.
But fixing the rhetoric of politicians who sometimes tear down their opponents isn’t the only solution. According to Otter, who served three terms as Idaho’s governor, conversations on civility should be had on a local level with the area’s youth.
“One of our responsibilities as parents, as grandparents, as educators, as those people in the community that have an opportunity to work with kids, is to raise the next generation of civility,” Otter said. “Teach those kids the right way and the respectful way to debate and to agree respectfully or disagree respectfully.”
To be part of the solution, Manny said people should turn off cable TV and should stop sharing irresponsible tweets or posting things on Facebook that are not respectful or fair. He also encouraged people to support fact-based news sources, to join CommonSense American — a nationwide initiative that aims to find solutions for policy bottlenecks — or to email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up more events or presentations on civility.
Dennis Ohrtman, a former teacher and city council member from Lewiston, said those who attended the forum should take it upon themselves to educate others on how to reverse the negative trends.
“I think part of the civil discussion is our responsibility to educate ... the people around us in our families, in our schools and in our community,” Ohrtman said. “We have a responsibility to make new leaders and to help them see that their vision needs to be wider.”
During her opening remarks, Cynthia Pemberton, the president of LCSC, said that involves listening closely to what other people have to say, without launching attacks in response to ideas one may not agree with.
“Civility is the hard work of staying present even if sometimes we disagree,” Pemberton said. “That is a necessary prerequisite to civic action and really helps us establish a line of respect in public life and public discourse.”
Tomtas may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.