Skip to content
Search

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Your Take: Congressional incivility

Your Take: Congressional incivility
Getty Images

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.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

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

Read More

Trump and Biden at the debate

Our political dysfunction was on display during the debate in the simple fact of the binary choice on stage: Trump vs Biden.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The debate, the political duopoly and the future of American democracy

Johnson is the executive director of the Election Reformers Network, a national nonpartisan organization advancing common-sense reforms to protect elections from polarization.

The talk is all about President Joe Biden’s recent debate performance, whether he’ll be replaced at the top of the ticket and what it all means for the very concerning likelihood of another Trump presidency. These are critical questions.

But Donald Trump is also a symptom of broader dysfunction in our political system. That dysfunction has two key sources: a toxic polarization that elevates cultural warfare over policymaking, and a set of rules that protects the major parties from competition and allows them too much control over elections. These rules entrench the major-party duopoly and preclude the emergence of any alternative political leadership, giving polarization in this country its increasingly existential character.

Keep ReadingShow less
Women holding signs to defend diversity at Havard

CHarvard students joined in a rally protesting the Supreme Courts ruling against affirmative action in 2023.

Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Project 2025: Affirmative action

Shapiro, a freelance journalist, was a newspaper editor for 30 years in California, Illinois and Iowa, including 21 years as executive editor of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

This is part of a series offering a nonpartisan counter to Project 2025, a conservative guideline to reforming government and policymaking during the first 180 days of a second Trump administration. The Fulcrum's cross partisan analysis of Project 2025 relies on unbiased critical thinking, reexamines outdated assumptions, and uses reason, scientific evidence, and data in analyzing and critiquing Project 2025.

The most celebrated passage in American history is honored in textbooks as a “self-evident” truth about equality.

We are schooled “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is a lofty proposition, but as the brainchild of two slaveowners — written by Thomas Jefferson at the behest of Benjamin Franklin — inherent contradictions exist.

Keep ReadingShow less
Computer image of a person speaking
ArtemisDiana/Getty Images

Overcoming AI voice cloning attacks on election integrity

Levine is an election integrity and management consultant who works to ensure that eligible voters can vote, free and fair elections are perceived as legitimate, and election processes are properly administered and secured.

Imagine it’s Election Day. You’re getting ready to go vote when you receive a call from a public official telling you to vote at an early voting location rather than your Election Day polling site. So, you go there only to discover it’s closed. Turns out that the call wasn’t from the public official but from a replica created by voice cloning technology.

That might sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but many New Hampshire voters experienced something like it two days before the 2024 presidential primary. They received robocalls featuring a deepfake simulating the voice of President Joe Biden that discouraged them from participating in the primary.

Keep ReadingShow less
Male and female gender symbols
Hreni/Getty Images

The Montana Legislature tried, and failed, to define sex

Nelson is a retired attorney and served as an associate justice of the Montana Supreme Court from 1993 through 2012.

In 2023, the Montana State Legislature passed a bill, signed into law by the governor, that defined sex and sexuality as being either, and only, male or female. It defined “sex” in the following manner: “In human beings, there are exactly two sexes, male and female with two corresponding gametes.” The law listed some 41 sections of the Montana Code that need to be revised based on this definition.

Keep ReadingShow less
Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley

Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley won the Congressional Management Foundation's Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility.

Official portraits

Some leaders don’t want to be held accountable. These two expect it.

Fitch is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

There is probably no more important concept in the compact between elected officials and those who elect them than accountability. One of the founding principles of American democracy is that members of Congress are ultimately accountable to their constituents, both politically and morally. Most members of Congress get this, but how they demonstrate and implement that concept varies. The two winners of the Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility clearly understand and excel at this concept.

Keep ReadingShow less