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Can We Talk? Reviving Civility in Public Discourse

On Tuesday, July 10, we attended a program at the City Club called "Can We Talk? Reviving Civility in Public Discourse." Ms. Yvette McGee Brown, Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice and Partner-in-Charge for Diversity, Inclusion, and Advancement at Jones Day, moderated a panel discussion composed of former U.S. Congressperson Mr. Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma; Mr. Dan Glickman, Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and now Executive Director, Congressional Program, The Aspen Institute; and Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona.

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The program was introduced by Mr. Louis Chattam, Partner at Jones Day, and member of the City Club Board of Directors, who said that "one of the bedrocks of the American Democracy is our commitment to free speech—the robust, open exchange of diverse ideas and perspectives. Furthermore, the creation of our two-party system was implemented to protect America from entering into another monarchy, ensuring no single mindset could dominate the American consciousness. The Founding Fathers imagined that the inherent tension between these differing ideas would ultimately make our country stronger and more resilient. More than two hundred years later, it can be argued that Americans find themselves more divided than united. Republicans and Democrats—both on the hill and in neighborhoods around the country—find themselves unable to collaborate and find common ground in efforts to address pressing issues facing our nation. The advent of technology and social media furthers those divisions, allowing each side to reach only their supporters and ignore others, sometimes creating a stalemate."

We also received a brochure from an initiative called Revive Civility Ohio, which read that "Civility in America has reached epidemic proportions. In far too many instances, rudeness, disrespect and hostility sideline collaboration and compromise. In 2018, Weber Shandwick's annual 'Civility in America Survey' found that 93% of Americans believe that the U.S. has a civility problem in society, and 69% classify it as a major problem. More than 8 in 10 Americans (84%) have at one time or another experienced incivility, and the frequency of uncivil encounters has risen dramatically since 2016. The public is frustrated and enraged at our leaders' inability to address our most pressing problems, and as a community we are struggling to connect with each other across social and political ideologies."

Indeed, during the course of the discussion, Dr. Lukensmeyer cited statistics that indicated that in the United States the current political climate was a major cause of stress in a very high percentage of citizens.

The panelists agreed that having strong convictions is a good thing, and it is one of the special gifts of our democracy that we should take a stand for what we believe in, but that we do not descend into abusive discourse that prevents the matter being worked out through compromise for the benefit of all involved. 

Of course a frustrated person might feel better momentarily after having said something nasty about President Trump on Twitter, but what good does this ultimately do?

Congressperson Edwards (a Republican) and Mr. Glickman (a Democrat) both shared their experiences on Capitol Hill and agreed that good leadership is imperative but sadly lacking at this time. Therefore, it is important that the individual members of legislative bodies launch initiatives that will enable them to work together in a bipartisan fashion. 

Along these lines, we learned from Dr. Lukensmeyer that U.S. Congressperson Joyce Beatty (Democrat from Ohio's 3rd District) and U.S. Congressperson Steve Stivers (Republican from Ohio's 15th District) started the Civility and Respect Caucus, which was formed to encourage all Members of Congress to act with civility and respect in their political discourse. What's more, in order to join the caucus one must have a partner from the other side of the political aisle. As such, U.S. Congressperson Marcia Fudge (Democrat) and U.S. Congressperson David Joyce (Republican) recently teamed up to join.

Said U.S. Congressperson Stephanie Murphy (Democrat from Florida's 7th District), "Bispartisanship is not easy, but that's what the American people expect from their leaders in government. I'm proud to join the bipartisan Civility and Respect Caucus, and I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to improve the lives of the people we represent."

Concerning the upcoming battle over the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, it was said that it would no doubt be a very contentious affair because the outcome will determine the pathway (i.e. racial/gender equality and the reproductive rights of women) the Supreme Court could take for many years to come. Nevertheless, it was hoped that this battle could be confined to the issues and not extend to Judge Kavanaugh's personal life or his integrity. In short, he should not be personally demonized.

During the Q and A, we brought up the fact that the 2012-2013 immigration reform package was very much a bipartisan effort but it still got sunk. Mr. Glickman and Congressperson Edwards (both of whom are the grandchildren of immigrants) attributed this to the strength of the nativist movement that is taking place throughout the world, not just the United States. It was also said that a successful long-term solution must take issues like border security into account as well as people's fears over their economic security. 

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC

 

Aimee Jannsohn