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Civic Ed
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"Were you watching when President Trump was booed after being introduced at Game 5 of the World Series at Nationals Park," asks Steven Mintz.

How politicians need to combat ‘cancel culture’ to recalibrate the civic tone

Mintz is the author of "Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior" and a former dean of the College of Business and Public Administration at Cal State University in San Bernardino.

Were you watching when President Trump was booed after being introduced at Game 5 of the World Series at Nationals Park? Chants of "lock him up" made me think about the decline of civility in society, which the president contributes to on Twitter almost daily.

Trump was a victim of his own disrespectful behavior, having prompted his audiences to chant "lock her up" during his campaign against Hillary Clinton. The point is uncivil behavior begets more uncivil behavior and before you know it, all of society has been infected.

Trump routinely criticizes those who disagree with him or say anything that portrays him in an unflattering way. He uses his bully pulpit to bully others rather than to bring our divided country together and promote civic discourse.

Political dialogue is the main cause of the lack of civic discourse in the public arena. Partisanship has replaced objective debate. It's fueled by each political party working to make the other look as bad as possible. It's an "us against them" mentality and the public loses in the end. Nothing of substance gets done because politicians are so busy digging up dirt on their opponents and playing to their political base.

Social media is the main cause of the lack of civility in society. The temptation to type a few words to vent at someone who said or did something objectionable is all too tempting for many. The tirade's recipient wants revenge and so replies without any thought of the consequences. These exchanges go viral and bad behavior is normalized. What's needed to restore civil discourse is to learn how to disagree with each other without being disagreeable.

A lot has been written recently about our "cancel culture," where someone says or does something that's captured online and then gets denounced online by those who object. The goal is to cut the initial messenger off from influence. The guilty party is shunned from society. Being cancelled can cost friends, coworkers, a job or even a career.

Cancel culture and what to do about it is a multi-dimensional problem. There are some who should be canceled such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and others who have said and done disgraceful things. The ever-increasing pictures of politicians, entertainers and others depicted in blackface is another example. Appearing in blackface or any other cultural insensitivity is wrong at any age. Just because someone did it when they were younger and immature doesn't excuse it. It shows poor judgment, a lack of empathy and gross insensitivity to what other people have had to endure.

I don't agree, however, that those who post offensive comments should be automatically cancelled. Such people need to be challenged on their ideas. How will we ever promote civilized discourse if we don't start talking to each other and resist the temptation to dismiss them because of their words or deeds? Let's call them out but also try to change their behavior in a productive way.

Former President Barack Obama chimed in recently about the cancel culture, saying that being judgmental about other people is not activism or helping to bring change. He likened it to casting stones. No doubt he's on to something, but we need to understand that this is one way for millennials to communicate their feelings and vent their frustration. They lead their lives on social media so it shouldn't be surprising that they turn to it to voice their disgust about someone else's words or behavior. It's a form of online activism.

We need to be more forgiving and less judgmental of others. We live in a time where

insults and accusations overwhelm honesty and integrity. We've forgotten the lesson of Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" that says we should "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Unfortunately, all too many seek first to criticize and judge.

Nothing will change unless our leaders change, and hearing the tenor of the debate in Congress over political matters, such as whether Trump should be impeached, gives me little hope the problem will be solved anytime soon. It doesn't matter what side of the issue you come down on. In Washington, it's a "gotcha" culture that fosters tit-for-tat behavior.

This is not what the Founders had in mind. They developed fundamental principles and civic virtues as the foundation of our government, but that is crumbling under the weight of acrimonious exchanges. We've lost sight of the basic virtues that reflect universal principles of moral and ethical excellence essential to living a good life and promoting effective, representative government. Things like basic kindness, respect for others and a generosity of spirit.

Can we reverse course? I'm not optimistic, but one thing that might help is for debate moderators to ask the Democratic presidential candidates to opine on how we can bring civility back to society. No one seems to want to discuss it, which is a sign incivility has been normalized by society.

To solve a problem, much like alcoholism and drug dependency, we first have to admit there is one, and it doesn't seem that will occur anytime soon.

We’re all about the issues that have broken American democracy — and efforts to make governments work again for you, your family and your friends.
Washington Bureau/Getty Images

The House on Friday passed legislation to restore a provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The bill would require advance approval of voting changes in states with a history of discrimination. Here President Lyndon Johnson shares one of the pens he used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Passage of historic voting rights law takes a partisan turn

In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.

The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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Big Picture

TV stations fight FCC over political ad disclosure

Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.

With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.

This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.

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1952 Eisenhower Answers America

On TV, political ads are regulated – but online, anything goes

Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.

With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.

Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.

Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.

I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.

Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.

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