In his book, "How Civility Works," Syracuse political science professor Keith Bybee defines civility as “the baseline of respect that we owe one another in public life." Civility is a trait so appealing by definition that we ought to have figured it out in the 243 years of the United State’s existence. Over the past 100 years, our lawmakers have spearheaded the liberation of various minority demographics, crafting a baseline of respect that each American owes to one another in public life. Yet, over the past 20 years, incivility has recreated itself, leeching off a disguised demographic — political partisanship. At the fault of our two-party system, political polarization has caused seemingly irreparable damage to our nation, communities, and even individual families.
First of all, political polarization has become the biggest problem our country faces — precisely because it prevents us from solving the “big problems we face." According to the Pew Research Center, Congress enacted an average of 230 public laws annually from 1987-1993. Following a linear decrease, that number dropped to 91 from 2011-2017 — a 40 percent decrease in congressional productivity. As incivility raises between Republicans and Democrats, the American people are offered a decreasing amount of solutions. In the end, it is no use to even worry about immigration and health care. We cannot solve those problems if our legislators won’t compromise.
However, congressional productivity is not the only way political polarization affects our society. Following in the footsteps of their leaders, Democrat and Republican citizens lack a willingness to understand each other’s viewpoints. This characteristic influences our community and families. During the 2018 election cycle, the only thing our “concerned” citizens were truly concerned about was confirming their prior opinions, rather than having a quality discussion and considering that their opinions may be misguided. At the family level, loved ones completely cut each other off as a result of ideological differences frequently — four of which were within my own.
At all three levels, there is one simple way to combat partisanship incivility — listen emphatically. The most effective legislators are those who co-sign bills with the opposite parties. The community our concerned citizens build from Facebook is a result of pragmatic discussion. And when it is personal communication, the relationships built between liberals and conservatives are founded upon both parties’ ability to develop a baseline of respect for each other — in other words, civility.