Last month I, like thousands of Utahns, received a letter in the mail from our Sen. Orrin Hatch acknowledging the recent influx of extreme political division across the nation and crimes of hatred against protestors in Charlottesville, against members of Congress at a baseball game and against Muslims on public transport in Portland. According to Hatch, “Civility is the indispensable political norm. It is the public virtue that has greased the wheels of our democracy since its inception”.
Similar sentiments have been expressed by leaders from both sides of the aisle across the nation and across Utah as fractures in personal relationships and even between members of the same political party worsen and divides between the parties widen. Some point fingers of blame to Trump and his tendency toward inflammatory and insulting remarks and positions on racism and immigrants. Others point to the media for benefiting from highlighting headlines about political conflict and unsavory conduct.
Whatever the reason, our partisan divide exists not only among politicians but among our community members, who some say fuel political divides and discourage compromise among our leaders. Yet partisan politics is a top concern amongst Utahns.
Today let’s take time to consider how we contribute to the loss of civility and what we can do to restore this central tool in our democracy. Here are 7 tips to help you.
CALL TO ACTION
- Emerge from your political bubble. Evidence shows that talking only to people who share your own beliefs actually makes people more extremist. Read The Atlantic article, “How People Like You Fuel Extremism” (and be sure to watch the short video at the end). Also, check out how geography is dividing us politically in: “America’s Political Divide Intensified During Trump’s First Year as President“. Think about what you can do to break out of patterns in your own life that worsen partisan divides and extremism.
- Learn how to disagree. Check out Hal Boyd’s piece in the Deseret News: “A Jew, a Mormon, a Muslim and a pagan learn to be agreeable by disagreeing at dinner“. Read articles on disagreeing amicably, like Time’s “How to Disagree, According to Science” and Inc’s “6 Smart Ways to Disagree With Someone Respectfully.”
- Learn how specific words and phrases divide us. Read “Why Democrats and Republicans Literally Speak Different Languages“. Think about how you can learn not to be triggered or goaded by the words of your party or another party and move beyond partisan rhetoric. Once you do, you might notice that you can find more common ground with people from other parties.
- Reward politicians for compromise, not for ideological orthodoxy. Want to thank your elected officials for something? Thank them for coming to the negotiating table and working with the other team, not for fueling partisan feuds (however ideologically pleasing that may be). Americans complain that our government can’t get anything done because they don’t work together, yet we scream and holler if our party doesn’t win outright on an issue or makes a deal with the other side. Bipartisan compromise is essential for the creation of policy that represents the needs and beliefs of more people. Allow our politicians to win by working together, rather than by vanquishing the other side.
- Look at how much we all have in common. Polling data shows us that across Utah and across the nation most people actually agree on most of the issues, particularly when you can pull partisan rhetoric out of the conversation. Take for example the Utah Foundation’s findings in their 2016 Utah Priorities Project, which found that the top 3 priorities for Utahns are the issues of Healthcare, Air Quality and K-12 Education. Or look at individual issues and find places where we all agree, such as in this Washington Examiner article, “Where Republicans and Democrats Agree on Healthcare“. On any given issue, there are places where people from both sides of the aisle can find common ground.
- Learn about initiatives that are trying to bring people together, like the Centrist Project and Serve America Movement (SAM).
- Attend an event on civility in politics and political discourse, such as Thurs, Nov 2nd’s “Civility in Politics and Public Life”, a discussion with Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, moderated by Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber. Vieve Gore Concert Hall, Westminster College. Reception at 6:00p, discussion at 7:00p.