An uncivil society

There is yet another survey that suggests we Americans are about to tear each other limb from limb. This time it’s from the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Civility Poll.

“A majority of Americans believe political, racial and class divisions are getting worse,” the poll found.  “Three-quarters or more of men and woman; urban, suburban, and rural voters (and) 70 percent of voters in every age cohort, white, black and Latinx, and nearly two-thirds of voters of all partisan stripes” believe the divisions are expanding.

Well, that covers just about everybody.

And this is frightening; “67 percent of those questioned believe the country is on the edge of a civil war.”

I hope that is an exaggerated response to a general feeling of hostility and angst in the country, but it is alarming to imagine that so many people believe that our divisions are leading us toward the kind of violence that nearly destroyed our young nation in the 19th century.

The poll finds that we largely disagree on the sources of the incivility.  Republicans blame Democrats, large newspapers, CNN, MSNBC and social media.  Democrats blame Republicans, special interests, President Trump, Fox News and social media.  Independents believe Trump and social media are responsible.

Finally, something everyone can agree on—social media contributes to the incivility.

Ed Goeas, Republican Pollster, who co-authors the Battleground Civility Poll along with Democratic Pollster Celinda Lake, believes only a monumental effort will calm the turbulent verbal waters.

“Restoring a higher level of civility to our politic will take a dedicated and courageous group of Republicans, Democrats, and members of the media to reject the easy tactics of uncivil rhetoric that paints opponents as enemies,” he said.

That’s going to be difficult because of another key finding in the poll.

Nearly nine in ten voters (87 percent) believe “compromise and common ground should be the goal for political leaders,” however, nearly the same percentage (84 percent) say they are “tried of leaders compromising their values and ideals and want leaders to stand up to the other side.”

The poll found, “That sentiment is more pronounced among Republicans and rural voters than it is among Democrats and independents, as well as suburban and urban voters.”

So that sounds like most voters want compromise, as long as it’s a compromise that matches what they think, which, by definition, is not a compromise because that requires mutual concession.

Our democracy is suffering because of a lack of civility.  As Richard Boyd wrote in his essay, The Value of Civility, “Civility is tied up with a specific kind of political community, premised on relationships of political equality… between fellow citizens.”

Boyd said that civility is neither a conservative nor a nostalgic virtue, but rather it is an essential component of an egalitarian society. As the Golden Rule says, treat others how you want to be treated.

Civility leads away from conflict and toward resolution.  It eschews chaos and fosters function.  Civility reinforces equality and demands that we consider views and conditions other than our own.

I seriously doubt we are headed for an actual civil war, as the poll suggests a majority of Americans believe, but it is evident we are already in the middle of a verbal civil conflict that is increasingly dividing our nation.





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