Your Take: Congressional incivility
Earlier this week we asked the following questions of our Bridge Alliance, Coffee Party and Fulcrum communities regarding recent patterns of incivility displayed by some of our elected officials:
- As a voter, does civility count as much as political ideology?
- How can we hold our elected officials responsible for upholding democratic principles?
Since our last email, the controversy surrounding George Santos has become a Jeopardy clue, as Congress awaits the proverbial shoe to drop on the fate of the embattled congressman. And while his resignation or removal seem increasingly inevitable with each passing day, Representative Santos’ potential departure from the House is unlikely to solve Congress’ incivility problem. Our democracy’s hub of lawmaking has become an elementary school sandbox; with some of our elected officials frolicking about in spectacle, lacking regard for the particular needs of their constituents.
As many of you acknowledged in your responses, while this incivility is the most apparent, it is not the most prevalent approach. Fairness and reason are much quieter means of doing business. Hence, we are often baited into centralizing our perspective around the much more eye-catching sensationalism. Therefore, it is just as much our responsibility as our elected officials to engage in democracy responsibly. With few equivocations, “we the people” elect those who represent us. Subsequently, their representation of us is particularly aligned with what we promote as acceptable in our role as the voters who support them.
Here is a sampling of your thoughts. Responses have been edited for length and clarity:
Civility is much more important than political ideology and, at the very least, they need to work together. Right now this is not happening. Only with civility can we trust, resolve, have constructive dialogue, and make better solutions. The question of how we can hold our elected officials responsible is a hard one. First of all, not all of our elected officials are happy with the incivility. And, we the people are their followers, but only a vocal subset of our population has joined in with the arguing, the hate, and distrust. Until we direct the blame where it belongs, we cannot effect change. - Brenda Marinace
It would be nice if the voters held elected officials accountable, but the average voter is just as guilty as the politicians in their incivility to those who hold alternate opinions to their own - Jack Closson
On a school camping trip with my government and history teacher, we had a lengthy conversation about the inability of a loud minority to acknowledge when their perceived opponent has a valid point. This division often devolves into incivility. Therefore, if an individual needs to compromise on the strength of their political ideology to maintain a civil discourse, then that is a tradeoff worth making. Uncivil discourse is not a crime, so impeachment and removal from office should not be used as a political weapon against the elected officials behaving in an uncivilized manner. But what we can do, is to simply not re-elect them. - Bobby Hamblin
Civility always matters. If your ideology includes the concept of pragmatism in pursuit of the U.S.’s best interests, treating others with civility will prove to be a helpful asset. - Bernard Sucher
In order to hold our elected officials accountable, Party leadership needs to stop tolerating this kind of behavior (i.e. censure members, remove them from committees, etc.). This will help stop this behavior from being effective. - Eric Prostko
Elected officials are a mirror of the people who elected them. We need to look within and elect people with higher principles. - Doug Bicknell
Rank choice voting would produce candidates with a broader, reducing the advancement of strident, divisive candidates from taking office. - Isaiah Jefferson
Civility is important, but not just for elected officials. It’s important for all of us. - Art Caya
Civility counts nearly as much as ideology. But what does count as much, if not more, is a sense of fairness and willingness to abide by set rules and laws. It is wrong for elected officials to use the law to suit whatever agenda is of the moment and then turn their back on it when it no longer serves them. - Nancy Smith
As a partisan voter who was convinced that my party's way was the right way for America, I was comfortable with being a “warrior” in the battle of ideologies, thinking if we became a governing, sustainable majority, that the country would see our effectiveness and embrace our view. I no longer hold this view. The collateral damage to the very fabric holding the country together has been so severe that we no longer trust our leaders or institutions - or even our neighbors if they do not share our world view. It seems as a nation that we cannot collectively solve problems, big or small, barely even managing the government at the moment. I now believe we must pivot to civility first before ideology. While I believe my ideology is still the best way for America, I am now content if my ideology does not carry the day. We cannot function properly with so much dysfunction! - Dan Brady
When political ideology takes precedent over the democratic process of honest information, open discussion, negotiation and compromise, our democracy ends - Stephen Herbits
"Ideological rage" is just as bad as road rage. Driving is frustrating and challenging. Yet we recognize that name-calling, aggressive, and unethical behavior on the roads is not helpful. Likewise, politics is frustrating and challenging. But, aggression and incivility will only cause more conflict. As consumers, would we allow the CEOs of car companies to yell at each other, or skirt responsibility when wrong-doing is uncovered? We elect politicians to work with each other to solve problems (including being civil and cooperative), not to incite, inflame, and cause political gridlock. - Marc Wong
To a greater extent, ideology in civil discourse can hash out differences and allow us to come to a mutually beneficial, yet imperfect, agreement. But incivility will not even allow us to come to the table to discuss the real problems. It distracts and takes our eye off the real problems and the real solutions. - Rick Davis
The value of civility depends on how we define it. As a workplace bullying advocate and researcher, incivility is defined as the minor infractions of rude discourse. I would certainly prefer that members of Congress conduct themselves in a polite and civil manner, but once the “rudeness floodgates” are opened, it can become difficult for civil tones of voices to be heard over the noise. There are instances where the ethical course of action is to call out vile behavior in the most civil manner that is available under the circumstances. - Leigh Patricia Schmitt, PhD.
Civility is an example of political ideology. - Mikel Clifford
We have the behavior and the outcomes we have from elected officials because of the way they are elected. They would not engage in those behaviors if our election system did not reward them for doing so. If we want different behaviors and outcomes from elected officials, then we have to change the way they are elected, including ranked choice voting. - Larry R. Bradley