When This is All Over, Everyone Should Make a Concerted Effort to Return to Civility


As of this writing, it's 9:20 p.m. (CT) on Monday, November 5, 2012. I am tired from my workout. I am tired from a long day at law school. Most of all, I am tired of this grueling, negative, polarizing election.

For many across the country, particularly us on PolicyMic, the 2012 election was not limited to the conventions, debates, and some "sporadic" opinion polls. If you're anything like me you've been following election developments since at least 2011, when the earliest Republican contenders began to emerge, and politics in general for far longer. And no matter what your political slant, there's one thing we can all agree on: this election has been one of unprecedented vitriol, from the two men at the top of the ticket down to local office-seekers to the many American citizens determined to ensure — or deny — their candidates success.

Thankfully, for most of my time on PolicyMic, the rancor was minimal, if it even existed at all. Articles were thoughtful, members courteous, and disagreement was expressed with reason and class instead of attacks and immaturity. The civil culture of the site is one reason I became enamored with it. Unlike my experience commenting over at Politico, for example, those who disagreed with me here respected my own opinion and were able to justify theirs with evidence, whether through links to interesting articles or citing salient statistics. In short, it was the perfect medium for reasoned political discourse with writers and thinkers representing the entire political spectrum.

While the resulting trend was certainly not monlithic, as 2012 neared there was a clear reduction in the quality of discourse as partisanship spiked. Logical dissent became secondary to ad hominem assaults; articles begged the question and employed questionable logic and cherry-picked data; and comments relied on red herrings to distract from articles' actual conclusions. I myself was denigrated as a bumpkin who had fallen off a beet wagon. Now, I have nothing against beets or bumpkins, but for the record I'm a Chicago guy who prefers alternative produce. Meanwhile, in another instance someone wrote that no one would believe my lies, though what lies I had told and why people wouldn't believe them (if they were in fact lies) were details that sadly went unspecified.

So as I sit here writing this, with no knowledge of the victor, my simple request is this: regardless of whether your choice candidate wins or loses, make a concerted effort to increase the quality of your arguments, reduce the scurrility of your dissents, and help maintain moderation in thought and word.

I am neither victoriously sitting comfotably in an Ivory Tower passing judgment on those who disagree with me nor depressingly requesting mercy from the winning side. Rather, I am specifically appealing now, before the polls even open, for a return to normalcy or perhaps even a grand step forward —- if not for the country at large then at least for us on PolicyMic. For, as everyone who frequents this site knows, we are not like other political afficionados and pundits who will no doubt double down on their ideologies and continue the mud-slinging long after this election concludes. Here we have our beliefs and convictions, yes, but at the very least on PolicyMic we can confidently express our own opinions while simultaneously exposing ourselves to dissenting voices equally valid in their own speech. Maybe once or twice your minds have been changed through interactions on the site. I know mine has.

And that's what makes America truly great — not blind patriotism or a huge economy, not our social safety net or our unbeatable national defense, but the expression of diverse opinions whose complex, implacable dialectic propels our country forward.

Today the yard signs and bumper stickers come down, but the passions and intensity will undoubtedly remain undiminished. Let's get back to doing what we do best.