To promote the idea of civility in American politics, it is necessary to discuss the fact that those words mean different things to different people. Search for “civility” in political discussion these days and you will find many who use their own definitions as a new way to attack the opposing political party or their leaders. Like so many other things, our notion of civility should not be defined first and foremost by the current political atmosphere, nor viewed only in the dim light of the all-too-familiar political blame game. Here we have listed those things which civility should NOT be when applied to politics.
1. Civility is NOT a substitute for policy scrutiny.
Many have suggested that a call for civility is really a request not to be bothered with opposing views, as if any scrutiny of any kind is uncivilized. We believe and promote the opposite. Healthy challenges to any policy proposal must be had. Solutions to our nation’s very complex issues must be found. We must remember that there is a clear difference between challenges to policy and other tactics (mischaracterization, demonization, straight up lies, etc. etc.).
2. Civility is NOT an excuse for crybabies.
I’ve always said that too many people link their own political views to their own sense of self worth, and treat a challenge to their politics as a direct personal attack. This is how politics can turn any friendly gathering or family picnic into a shouting match. We should all be willing to have our assumptions challenged, as discussion and fact sharing makes our policy stances stronger. It’s not our feelings that are up for debate, and conversations with fellow citizens is we need to do to fix our nation’s and our community’s problems. It has also become popular for some to claim that if you’re not fighting uncivily, you’re not getting anywhere or you’re not a true believer in your principles. A person who believes this has already bought into the game Washington plays, and should start thinking of the country as less a war zone than a community of people with surprisingly similar needs.
3. Civility is NOT giving up.
In fact, it’s starting up. When a politician urges for civility in a debate, it is tempting for their opposition to assume it means instead that their giving up and accepting defeat is the civil thing to do. Defining civility in this way paints that politician or their party as high and mighty, self-righteous, and unyielding while the opposition is depicted as the unfortunate victims of being in the silenced minority. In these cases, we must all insist that politicians spend less time characterizing their opponents and more time finding solutions.
4. Civility is NOT Kumbaya around a campfire in Washington.
Put simply, politics should never get in the way of solutions, and the people we elect MUST focus on fixing the massive problems facing our country. As voters, we must show them that we value solutions above excuses and political games.
5. Civility is NOT detachment from real issues.
For us, civility in politics is the responsibility we have to be better citizens. This means taking up the task of being active in our communities to find out more about the issues we and our neighbors face, or walking away when the other person decides they don’t want to listen and just want to be angry. Most importantly, it means refusing to buy into the black and white, good versus evil mindset some politicians and parties would use to have us turn against family and friends if it meant guaranteeing our vote on Election Day.