Civility Blog

Civility in Nebraska’s Effort to Reform Redistricting

Because the national press hasn’t picked it up, you may not have heard the story. But there’s some very interesting civility news going on right now in the state of Nebraska. On Wednesday, Nebraska’s legislature passed a bill that would reform the state’s redistricting process, taking it largely out of the hands of the legislators themselves and empowering an independent commission. Emily Nohr of Omaha.com describes it this way:

The bill would create an independent commission of citizens to redraw the state’s political maps for six elected bodies: U.S. House, the Legislature, Public Service Commission, University of Nebraska Board of Regents, State Board of Education and Nebraska Supreme Court.

No more than five commission members could be from a single political party.

Don Walton of the Lincoln Star-Journal adds that the process would start with the submission of a series of computer-generated maps to the commission, proposing plans that could achieve relative population equity and meet other goals, such as adherence to county boundaries. The commission would then decide on a course of action and submit it to the legislature for final approval. If a plan is rejected, Walton writes, the commission would reconvene to offer an alternative to the Legislature.

Redistricting Reform in Nebraska
Nebraska’s Congressional Districts, as of the 113th Congress (2013-2015).

This comes in response to a particularly acrimonious redistricting fight in 2011 that resulted in personal disputes and some rancor among senators over their legislative district boundaries – boundaries that were, in particular, seen by many Democrats to unduly benefit the Republican Party in metropolitan Omaha’s 2nd Congressional District.

Not every elected official in Nebraska is pleased with the new bill. At an earlier stage in the process, eleven senators abstained from a vote to move the bill forward. And though Governor Pete Ricketts has not publicly commented on the plan, reports indicate that he has privately expressed some degree of opposition.

That said, contentious as it might be, both the legislative process and the plan for reforming redistricting practices in Nebraska indicate some positive news for civility.

Recently, data has increasingly suggested that redistricting conducted through independent commissions has not, as we might suppose, significantly increased competitiveness for congressional seats. But in the six states where independent commissions have been instituted, what it has done is decrease the frequency and intensity of the sort of legislative battle that precipitated Nebaska’s bill.

It hasn’t entirely done away with acrimony. But according to Peter Miller and Bernard Grofman in the U. C. Irvine Law Review [PDF], states with commissions tend to deliver district maps on time, and largely without legal contestation. And though the process remains marked with controversy, the resulting maps tend not to be altered or overturned during the decade in which they are instituted.

Moreover, the specific process by which Nebraska came to their new plan has been intentionally inclusive on a number of levels. As Don Walton writes, the bill is the product of years of cooperative work and negotiation by Sens. John Murante of Gretna and Heath Mello of Omaha – a Democrat and a Republican respectively. The nine-member independent commission in charge of the redistricting itself can have no more than five members – the barest of majorities – from any one party. And according to an earlier article about the plan, the members of the commission are chosen in equal measure by the state’s three legislative caucuses, which each represent one of the state’s main geographic areas.

Several senators, according to Walton, have raised concerns about possible urban domination of the commission in what is otherwise a highly rural state. Six of the nine commissioners would come from the vicinity of Omaha and Lincoln, the state’s two largest cities.

But no plan could be perfectly representative. And this one bars lobbyists, elected officials, party officials, and their relatives from serving on the commissions, potentially decreases the possibility of other kinds of conflicts of interest.

We here at the Institute do not endorse plans to do redistricting by independent commission – or by any other particular means. We are not a policy organization, and moreover we believe that the method by which states manage electoral districts must be highly specific to their individual circumstances – that each state must decide for itself.

But we are highly encouraged by any legislative move that puts fairness and the needs of voters ahead of the interests of partisanship and legislators’ job security. We are highly encouraged by evidence-based legislation that seems designed to curb acrimony in debates among lawmakers. Our interest is piqued by the bipartisanship that Nebraska legislators have shown here. And should Governor Ricketts sign it into law, we will be watching closely to see how this experiment in redistricting reform turns out.

Civility Linkblogging: Faith Leaders and Civil Politics

Civility LinkbloggingCivility Linkblogging is an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This month brings us a selection of (mostly) religious voices, from all ends of the political spectrum, calling for civility, tolerance, and kindness. This includes a Unitarian Universalist minister drawing a distinction between debate with the goal of better understanding, and debate with the lesser goal of winning. It includes a Mormon commentator examining civility as a trans-religious value that strengthens society. It includes a Methodist minister reflecting on the value of political correctness. And it includes a Baptist asking us to move beyond civility — to embrace kindness as an active strategy against sin.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

Bring Civility to the Debate Process
Posted by Julia Corbett-Hemeyer at The Star Press, March 5, 2016

There is nothing wrong with candidates throwing themselves passionately into the topic at hand. The situations the United States faces at home and abroad are certainly complicated enough that sincere, reasonable and good-hearted women and men will disagree on the best courses of action. The complexity of the world in which political decisions must be made guarantees that, in addition to good decisions, mistakes will inevitably be made. There will be ample cause to challenge the choices and judgments of one’s predecessors and those on the other side of the political party aisle.

We are not at our best, however, when we are sniping at each other and engaging in personal attacks in the name of debate. We are not at our best when name calling and innuendo cloud our discussion of the issues and of what’s good for the country. We are not at our best when we engage in debate with the goal of “winning” and assuring that our “opponents” are defeated.

Civility is Essential to Strong Societies
Posted by Kristine Frederickson at Desert News, March 6, 2016

The definition itself teaches us the consequences of incivility: When we are uncivil, we become harsh, unmerciful, uncaring, poorly performing citizens who, inevitably, will engage in disorderly behavior. We do not need to look far to see this occurring all around us — road rage, physical altercations, physical attacks, and verbal and physical abuse are evident everywhere.

Incivility has the capacity to destroy strong, unified and healthy societies. The reverse is true — harmonious, courteous, safe and civil communities persist by exhibiting respectful, kind and concerned human interaction.

We Need Civility in Politics Because The Kids ARE Watching
Posted at The Times of San Diego, March 7, 2016

Perhaps we can’t stop the escalating behavior and rhetoric in the political landscape, but we can provide students with an understanding of our how our government works best, how to critically assess the 2016 primaries, and how the respective candidates’ ideas, styles and capacity for collaboration might affect our democracy.

In this election year, the anger, distrust and contentiousness of the people toward government have gotten our attention. What hasn’t been talked about so much is how this mood affects those who will inherit the future: our youth. Will the unintended consequences of this toxic election year move our nation into an era of even further division and fragmentation? Or will we find the will to show the next generation how to live effectively in a diverse and eclectic world with others of differing opinions?How we answer this question for our children may well shape the America we leave them even more than the actual election outcome.

Political Correctness is Correct
Posted by Doug Fairbanks at TimesFreePress.com, March 19, 2016

So this brings me to the correctness of political correctness. In my opinion, political correctness is just one attempt to help all of us be more aware of the value and worth of every human being. We only need to access any form of news media to discover that our world and our society have not risen to that high calling. And, though political correctness can make us feel a bit uncomfortable at times, better that than becoming so complacent in regards to human relationships that we become numb to treating each other with mutual respect.

As a child, I learned to sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” As a Christian, I am reminded that my main goal is to love as God loves. As a human being, I am aware that I fail at that more often than I care to admit. But at least the awareness of the truth bothers me enough that I keep on trying to imitate God’s extravagant love.

Again, political correctness is at least a feeble attempt to be like a burr under the saddle of our human psyche, reminding us that all is not well in human relationships and we need to keep trying to make it better. Indeed, we need to keep trying to make it much better. And I say better that we continue to be disturbed in this regard than just write off the correctness of political correctness.

We Need More Than Civility; We Need Kindness
Posted by Russell D. Moore at Pastors.com, March 19, 2016

When we don’t oppose demons, we demonize opponents. And without a clear vision of the concrete forces we as the church are supposed to be aligned against, we find it very difficult to differentiate between enemy combatants and their hostages.

The Scriptures command us to be gentle and kind to unbelievers, not because we are not at war, but because we’re not at war with them (2 Tim. 2:26). When we see that we are warring against principalities and powers in the heavenly places, we can see that we’re not wrestling against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). The path to peace isn’t through bellicosity or surrender, but through fighting the right war (Rom. 16:20). We rage against the Reptile, not against his prey.

We hear many calls, from across the religious and political spectrum, for civility. But civility is not enough. Civility is a neutral ground, a sort of mutual non-aggression pact, where we agree to respect one another and not to belittle one another. That’s important, and a good start, but that’s not enough. Just as we are not for “toleration” of those who religiously disagree with us but for “liberty,” so we should not be for mere civility, but for, from our end, kindness. Civility is passive; kindness is active and strategic.

Reflecting on Civility on Our Eighteenth Anniversary

On April Fool’s Day of 1998, we launched the Institute for Civility in Government by walking the halls of Congress and introducing ourselves and the newly-formed organization we had been planning since the previous fall. We were met with laughter, puzzlement, bemusement, confusion, politeness, and in some offices – real interest. While some people who knew us and had been to Washington, D.C. with us immediately jumped on board with their membership and support, most people – both in D.C. and back home – wondered why we were concerned about civility. Some even asked us what the word meant.

Eighteen years later, people no longer wonder why we are concerned. Civility is one of those things that we tend to take for granted until we no longer have it. It is one of those things that we assume is just the norm until it isn’t. And then, faced with its opposite, we realize that civility is the all-essential glue that holds a diverse society together. It is the grease that keeps daily interactions moving forward and makes life in community possible. In the realm of government, it is what makes problem-solving possible. And we have some big problems to solve.

Since our launch, some things have changed. A 2016 poll by Weber Shandwick indicates that people have a greater awareness than ever of civility’s importance. 95% of participants now believe that its absence is a problem in the United States, compared with only 65% in 2010, when they first did the survey. Fully 70% now say that incivility in this country has risen to “crisis” levels, up from 65% in 2014. Increasingly, lack of civility in the United States has become a source of concern for people. And increasingly, according to the poll, people are ready to do something about it.

But some things have also remained the same. We still define civility for folks, and a lot of people have found our definition to be helpful. For us, civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs, and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process. That is the definition that Tomas Spath and I came up with years ago, and it is still the one we and all the members of the Institute stand by today. It does not say we have to agree with one another. In fact it celebrates differences and tells us we should claim them. Differences are enriching. But they are also difficult. And our definition encourages us to focus on why we hold our positions, and on the strength of our beliefs, rather than demonizing those who think and believe differently.

But then as now, a definition – even a popular one – is not enough. Although there is an increased awareness of the importance of civility and a growing concern about its absence, people must take the next step. They must be willing to believe they can make a difference and turn this cultural drift around. They must believe that voices joined are voices heard, and that investments in teaching our youth civility today will pay off in a more civil nation tomorrow. Then as now, we must educate people about the Institute’s existence, and convince them to join.

Since we launched the Institute, a devoted group of Americans – and people from around the world – have joined our cause, and many more have made donations to support it. People have participated in our programs and shared our educational materials, and through that we have built a strong foundation for a movement. This week, on our eighteenth anniversary, is the time for you to add your voice to ours and become a member of the Institute for Civility in Government. It is no small thing, and though you might not see it today, it will make a big difference.

Sincerely,

Cassandra Dahnke & Tomas Spath
Co-Founders, Institute for Civility in Government

Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland’s Pattern of Civility

The Institute does not endorse candidates or policies, and it certainly doesn’t endorse nominees for judicial appointments. But from time to time, as we read the news, we’ll see something from a public figure – or about a public figure – that’s profoundly heartening. It has happened over the past several months with both Bernie Sanders and Chris Christie, who have each had exemplary moments of civility. And it’s happening again right now, as we learn more about D.C. Circuit Court judge and newly-minted Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Supreme Court of the United States

In an interview after the nomination, NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg pointed out to President Obama that he could have chosen a candidate for the highest court who would be much more satisfying to his liberal base, and who might more effectively inflame Democrats’ passions in an election year. Asked about the logic of choosing the seemingly moderate Garland instead, the President said this:

This moment in our history – a time when judicial nominations have become so contentious, a time when our politics is so full of vitriol – I think particularly benefits from a man who by all accounts is decent, full of integrity, is someone who tries to hear the other side’s point of view, and can build bridges.

The President told Totenberg that Garland has shown himself to be a consensus builder, and that he believes, rightly, that we’re at a time where the more consensus we can forge, the better off we’re going to be.

Now, Garland is the President’s nominee. And the President has every reason to inflate his bona fides, including – or perhaps especially – his prowess as a civil guy. But we don’t need to take President Obama’s word on Merrick Garland’s civility. In the wake of his nomination, civility – born of integrity and diligence – has quickly become one of his most talked-about characteristics.

There is Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s praise for Garland, whom he called a moderate and a fine man. And there is Chief Justice John Roberts’s assessment, at his own confirmation hearing, that anytime Judge Garland disagrees, you know you’re in a difficult area.

But more to the point, there are Merrick Garland’s former clerks and colleagues.

On CNN, Jeffrey Bellin, William & Mary Law School professor and former clerk to Garland said this of his process as an appellate court judge:

He works behind the scenes to find common ground. When called upon to do so, he will explain to other judges why the record, the facts and the law support his view. If they don’t agree, he will listen. The resulting opinions are carefully crafted to find consensus, reflecting the reality, not the rhetoric, of “rule of law.”

The most telltale sign of Garland’s influence is not blazing rhetoric; it is that a diverse group of judges will agree on the resolution of an otherwise polarizing case.

Former clerk Jay Michaelson, in The Daily Beast, wrote about his commitment to conscience over ideology:

There was not a single case I worked on with him, from the most mundane Federal Energy Regulation Commission matter to a 20-plus-year-old civil rights case, in which politics played into his considerations. Conscience, sure — Judge Garland often reminded me that there were human beings on both sides of these contentious cases—but never ideology.

In The Recorder, UC Davis law professor Albert Lin said that Garland’s goal has often been to resolve cases in a way where he could get consensus from the entire panel. And John Trasvina, dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law, said: I couldn’t imagine him ending a discussion based on whose voice was loudest or who had the most authority. More than to win, Garland’s goal has been to move some minds.

That’s a pattern of high praise. Individuals on all sides of the political spectrum, and more importantly people who have worked with him, have called Merrick Garland’s process deliberate and inclusive. They have indicated that he listens when others disagree with his assessments, and that he is more interested in decisions that are satisfactory to as many parties as possible than decisions that simply forward his beliefs.

The politics of Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination are complicated, both in terms of his own beliefs which are generally regarded to be somewhere on the progressive side of moderate, and in terms of the process of his confirmation, which is held up in no small part by the pending presidential election.

But for our purposes, all of that is besides the point. What’s important here is that in his professional life, Judge Garland seems committed to a brand of civility that prefers deliberation on the facts – and that prefers consensus and good communication over polarizing pronouncements. And regardless of where his nomination ends up, that’s a thing from which we all can learn.

A Note About the Rhetoric of Violence

Shepard Fairey MegaphoneWhile it is obvious that we should all strive for civility in our politics and our everyday lives, there is a certain way that it is a little bit of a tricky prospect.

On the one hand, as we discussed earlier this year, political correctness can be a civility red herring. Far from placing us in a position where we are claiming and caring for our identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process, political correctness is about sublimating our needs and beliefs in favor of the priorities of others.

Political correctness, for example, does not tell us that we should not harbor resentments toward shifting demographics in the United States – and it doesn’t tell us how we can think reflectively about usefully sharing our physical or political space. Rather, it tells us that if we hold unpopular biases, we should secret them away because it is not socially acceptable for those parts of ourselves to exist, and we will be shamed if we express them.

Political correctness, in other words, shuts down communication. And good communication is key for civility to flourish.

But political correctness is not the only, or even the most pernicious, rhetorical force that works like this. And though we should be wary of ideologies and their adherents when they call for us to silence ourselves, we should be especially wary when they call for us to silence others.

This, in particular, is the problem with ideologies that utilize violence as a rhetorical strategy.

Like political correctness, the threat of violence shuts down communication. It does so not by telling us that our needs are unacceptable, but by telling us that our needs are the only ones that matter – that the needs of others are of so little consequence that it’s only right to dismiss them out of hand.

Violent rhetoric achieves this in two ways at once. First, it’s factionalizing. It points us toward some external enemy, real or imagined, and insists: it’s us or them. We who are insiders must stand together as a group, because otherwise the outsiders will take what’s ours.

And second, it recasts the outsiders as monsters. It suggests that because they seem unlike us, or because they disagree with us, or sometimes even because they are weaker than us, their ideas not only have no merit, they are poisonous. The needs and beliefs of those outside the faction are not three-dimensional or indicative of any actual needs and beliefs at all; instead, they are meant only to harm us and weaken our social standing.

The result is a kind of paranoia: the notion that in a world of limited resources, we must stand with the people we identify as most like us because, certainly, that’s what the next guy is doing.

The result is petty hatred: the feeling that people who don’t share our characteristics – race, or religion, or politics, or whatever other factor – are somehow inferior, or disgusting, or debased.

The result is that violent rhetoric tends to become violent deeds: first meant to stop the supposed invaders, but ultimately to suppress even the softest whispers of dissent from within.

And the result is that while civility seems like such a simple thing so much of the time, in the face of prominent figures espousing violence and threats, the high road can sometimes feel very narrow, indeed.

In light of our current national flirtation with violent rhetoric, it might behoove those of us who wish to advance the cause of civility to ask some basic questions about the place of tolerance in a pluralist society. Writing in 1947, directly in the wake of one of the most tragic outbreaks of ideologically driven violence we have known, philosopher Karl Popper suggested that there is such a thing as a paradox of tolerance: that unlimited tolerance, as he writes, must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.

If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

Popper, writing at the dawn of modern laws against hate speech in Europe, suggested that we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal. That suggestion is obviously unsuitable to the culture and circumstances of the United States, and we don’t advocate it.

But he did make an important point. He said that we must distinguish between those intolerant ideologies that can be countered by rational argument and kept in check by public opinion, and those that reject rational argument – that forbid their followers to listen to anything as deceptive as rational argument, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists.

As advocates of civility, we recognize that communication is key. The possibility of achieving desirable outcomes through a civil process requires that I be able to make a reasoned case for my needs and beliefs to you, and that you are able to do the same for me.

Our political system exists largely within the realm where this kind of civil exchange is possible, even if we don’t always achieve it perfectly. But we must remain ever vigilant against encroaching ideologies that reject rationality in favor of fists. Our civility, after all, makes us vulnerable to the paradox of tolerance. And if we are not careful, within our desire to accommodate a plurality of voices, we potentially plant the seeds of civility’s demise.

Image: “London Mural” by Shepard Fairey. Photograph by George Rex via Flickr, licensed CC-BY-SA.

Anaheim, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Problem of Escalating Violence

Stop_Klan_Terror
Image by Michael Scott Van Wagenen

This past weekend has, once again, provided a sad example of the urgent need for civility – not as a means of policy negotiation or a form of politeness, but as an antidote to hatred and violence.

This is what happened: last Saturday, at Pearson Park in Anaheim, California, members of the Ku Klux Klan clashed violently with counter-protesters at what Klan supporters described as a white lives matter rally.

According to reporting from Vibe.com, the rally was aimed at raising awareness against “illegal immigration and Muslims”. Protesters arrived on the scene hours before the event was scheduled to begin, and as Klansmen exited their SUV, donning Confederate flag patches, the counter-protesters, who were reportedly armed with two-by-fours, approached them.

The resulting melee left three people stabbed and 13 people arrested.

As The New York Times reports, one Klan supporter waved a flagpole bearing the American flag as a weapon. Klan members carried signs with slogans including “White Lives Do Matter Say No To Cultural Genocide.” And one carried the Confederate battle flag.

The protesters seem to have been instigators of the physical assault. And in one video of the violence, after the Ku Klux Klan SUV had sped away, one stood over a stranded Klan member and, enraged, yelled: Your own white people left you!

In an interview with Southern California radio station KPCC, Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said that this sort of incident is not an accurate reflection at all of who we are in Anaheim. He called Anaheim one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States and a city of respect and tolerance and kindness.

But while everything Mayor Tait said may be true of Anaheim under ordinary circumstances, if we can learn anything from what happened, it’s that denial and an affirmation of the people’s generous spirit is not enough. Violence like this is not an isolated event. It exists as part of an escalating cycle of hatred. And, sadly, it has deep roots in the United States.

Even just in Anaheim, The Los Angeles Times reports, there is a long and troubling history with the Ku Klux Klan. They write that Klansmen were once the dominant political force in Anaheim, holding four of five City Council seats through the early 1920s, and drawing tens of thousands of participants to their rallies.

And they write that in 2003, an eight-foot cross was burned outside the home of a black man.

But even this is not the most immediate context for what happened at Pearson Park. If we pay attention to the rhetoric of the Klansmen, we find its roots much closer to home – in the incivility and angry rhetoric that characterizes our current presidential election cycle.

The Klansmen in Pearson park claimed to be concerned about Muslims and immigrants. Well, over the past several months, we have seen specific language from presidential candidates that vilifies both groups: we have heard proposals to ban all Muslims from entering the United States; claims that immigrants from Mexico are rapists and murderers; and in the context of the Syrian refugee crisis, suggestions that the United States should only accept immigrants who can prove that they are Christians, because non-Christians are more likely to be violent extremists.

The Klansmen called themselves a “white lives matter” protest. At campaign events, we have seen physical altercations between Black Lives Matter activists and rally-goers; we have seen calls of all lives matter – some well-intentioned, and some not; and we have seen candidates repeatedly deny the existence of the pattern of police violence that spawned the movement in the first place.

And the fact that this group identified itself as Klan-affiliated at all is not insignificant. Recently, we have seen the media offer broad publicity for the political endorsements of white supremacist leaders like Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Not positive publicity, but much more airtime than most other political endorsements garner.

The problem at Pearson Park – as Anaheim’s Mayor Tait seemed to understand in the framing of his comments – is not the impulse to stand against hate. That is invaluable. The problem is that while the impulse to meet hatred with violence may seem satisfying in the moment, it is profoundly unproductive. It crystallizes the most intolerant feelings and impulses on every side, it leads to escalation, and it shuts down the possibility of communication. No amount of beating can expunge hate.

But neither can the response to this incident be nominal civility via another impotent cry of “can’t we all just get along?” There is always need for greater kindness and more courtesy, but requiring we not say those things that might offend leads to frustration, not resolution. Which is why scorn for political correctness has been such an effective campaign tool in this current election cycle.

Instead, one way forward may be the sort of civility that allows us to perceive the humanity in those we think of as our enemies, and to take their needs and beliefs seriously. According to The O.C. Weekly, one speaker at a peace rally following the incident in Pearson Park invoked the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quoting the slain civil rights leader when he said, “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” This is on the right track.

But as that same article suggests, it may be more helpful to recall Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech in 1967. There, King reflects on the value of compassion and nonviolence. As he says, it:

Helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

And this is ultimately key. As we saw this past weekend, violent words breed only more violent words and ultimately violent deeds. But if instead we meet hatred with a question – if we require our opponents to account for themselves and their hate – we humanize them, and we humanize ourselves to them.

Change by this route is slow, and it will frustrate us at every turn. But it is a process of teaching our opponents to see their own positions as we see them. And that, more than any violence, has the potential to undo hate.

Civility Linkblogging: Town Halls, Debates, Iowa, and Indiana

Civility LinkbloggingThis post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This month, with the Presidential primary season well underway, the news is moving particularly quickly. But despite that — or perhaps because of it — it seems particularly important to pause and consider the civility implictions of all that is happening, even after the fact. In this edition, therefore, we have discussions that touch on prior primary debates and townhalls, some reflection on the Iowa caucus, and a discussion of how any of the candidates should act if they should win the office.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

Senators Laud Civility Counts For Improving Public Dialogue
Posted by Dan Carden at NWITimes.com, January 26, 2016

Chuck Hughes said civility is needed now more than ever in households, workplaces, schools and basically everywhere people gather.

He said it’s easy to be civil; all it takes is being mindful of what you say, what you do and how you act toward your family, friends, neighbors and strangers.

“It costs nothing, you don’t have to join anything, there’s no initiation, there’s no fee,” Hughes said. “It’s simply what is expected of us.”

That civility message appears to be resonating throughout the Statehouse during the 2016 legislative session.

Focusing on What Really Matters
Posted by Carolyn Lukensmeyer at The Huffington Post, January 26, 2016

Regardless of whether a republican, a democrat or an independent becomes our next president, they will face a divided country and an even more divided Congress, and the only way they – and therefore we, as a country – will be successful is to work together. Disagreements are going to happen – it is simply a fact of life. But the bigger issue is having someone at the table who is willing to listen to all sides and to find a solution that works.

The president needs to be able to work with Congress – both House and Senate and democrats as well as republicans. He or she also needs to be able to work with fifty governors who have issues and concerns that impact the federal government. At the end of the day the man or woman who succeeds President Barack Obama will need to work with people with differing viewpoints across the US, not to mention the world. And that means having the ability to listen, reason and problem solve for the greater good.

Democrats Model Political Civility in Iowa Town Hall
Posted by Jules Witcover at NewsOK.com, January 27, 2016

The approaching Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary eight days later may well prolong the Clinton-Sanders competition well into the state contests in the South that her campaign has touted as a firewall for her formerly presumed coronation as the Democratic nominee.

If so, it’s to be hoped that the civility of the Drake University town hall, and its substantive content, will continue to be the pattern.

Let’s Hope For Civility in Elections — Local and Beyond
Posted by Jeffrey Jackson at Owatonna.com, January 27, 2016

There is little doubt that there is a frustrated electorate here in Steele County as well. We’ve seen in past elections, including the most recent school bond referendum in Owatonna, as well as in the letters to the editors those elections have generated. And we fully expect that some of that frustration will be voiced by voters this election cycle.

That being said, we seriously doubt that the candidates who have thrown or will throw their hats in the electoral ring, either for re-election or to oppose an incumbent, will play upon that frustration or embrace the mantle of anger that national seem so willing to do. If past elections here are any indication, then this upcoming local election cycle will be one marked by civility.

And why? Because the ladies and gentlemen running for office are more than just opponents in an election. They are also fellow citizens, neighbors and in some cases, friends. That kind of connection breeds civility.

Iowa Caucus 2016: Six Ways to Show Civility
Posted by Jay Byers, and others at The Des Moines Register, February 1, 2016

Remember that everyone has a different life experience and therefore a different lens through which to see the world. We believe that influencing others and moving conversations around critical issues forward in meaningful ways requires respect for others.

Freedom of speech is an indispensable American value, and we have an incredible opportunity to use our freedom of speech to affect the future. Here in Iowa, we are privileged to have many opportunities to meet presidential candidates and surrogates, and to be at the heart of political discourse. As the four civic organizations that comprise the Show Some Respect campaign, we encourage Iowans to be civil. Let’s show the world more of that “Iowa nice.” Hopefully others, including the candidates, will follow our lead.

Here are six ways to demonstrate civility during election season.

Antonin Scalia’s Indelicate Brand of Civility

Justice Antonin Scalia
Photo by Stephen Masker, CC-BY

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly this past Saturday, is not someone whose name we usually associate with civility. Reflecting on his life for The New York Times, Bruce Allan Murphy, law professor and author of Scalia: A Court of One, writes that he changed the United States Supreme Court… more than President Ronald Reagan could ever have foreseen when appointing him. And he writes about the importance of his advocacy of “originalism” and “textualism” – the theories that judges should decide cases according to the “public meaning” of the words in the Constitution or its Amendments as understood by the American people in the state constitutional ratifying conventions.

But as Scott Lemieux of The Guardian said on Sunday: as enormous as his influence on American jurisprudence and American public culture has been, Antonin Scalia’s legacy is in many ways one of polarization.

Scalia’s public persona was that of provocateur, and he was perhaps best known for being colorfully undiplomatic and eminently quotable. Sometimes his penchant for provocation ran toward the crass, like in 2012, when he was asked by a Princeton student about his moral judgment of homosexuality, and he responded: if we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder?

Sometimes his provocation turned personal, straying into the territory of ad hominem attacks. As Bruce Allan Murphy writes, he called Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s 1989 opinion in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services “irrational,” “totally perverse” and “not to be believed.” And he belittled Anthony Kennedy’s 1992 opinion in the Lee v. Weisman school graduation prayer case as “psychology practiced by amateurs” and “incoherent.”

But as often, he was wickedly incisive in his critiques. As in 2005 when, in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., he defended his judicial philosophy by dismissing the idea of moderation on the bench. We say we want moderate judges, Scalia told his audience [PDF], but:

What is a moderate interpretation of the text? Halfway between what it really means and what you’d like it to mean? There is no such thing as a moderate interpretation of the text. Would you ask a lawyer, “Draw me a moderate contract?” The only way the word has any meaning is if you are looking for someone to write a law, to write a constitution, rather than to interpret one.

Yet despite all his bluster – despite the decisions (and especially the dissents) that earned him a reputation as a warrior in the conservative cause – Scalia was in his own idiosyncratic way an advocate for a particular brand of civility.

In his dissenting opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges – the case that legalized same-sex marriage across the United States – he wrote [PDF] that the most unfortunate consequence of the majority opinion was that it shut down debate:

Public debate over same-sex marriage displayed American democracy at its best. Individuals on both sides of the issue passionately, but respectfully, attempted to persuade their fellow citizens to accept their views…. Win or lose, advocates for both sides continued pressing their cases, secure in the knowledge that an electoral loss can be negated by a later electoral win. That is exactly how our system of government is supposed to work.

Until, he said, the courts put a stop to it.

Whatever else readers may think about the case or the tenor debate in the states that led up to it, Scalia’s point here is fundamentally about civility. What he calls for, to paraphrase the Institute’s definition, is disagreement without disrespect, and negotiation in the face of deeply rooted and sometimes passionate differences of opinion. Policy-making is an adversarial process, he tells us. But it’s supposed to be that way. The point of civility is not to eliminate conflict in public life, but to make it bearable, productive, and as useful as possible for all parties.

This is something we see in other aspects of how he conducted himself. In a 2013 interview with Jennifer Senior in New York Magazine, Scalia talked about how he chose his clerks. His preference, he said, is for clerks whose predispositions are quite the opposite of mine — who are social liberals rather than social conservatives. The advantage of that, he said, is productive debate: that kind of clerk will always be looking for the chinks in my armor, for the mistakes I’ve made in my opinion. That’s what clerks are for — to make sure I don’t make mistakes.

And what’s true for he and his clerks is also true for the court as a whole. Writing about his loss, friend and fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had this tribute:

When I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots — the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’ — and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion.

And at the end of the day, as Scalia told Jennifer Senior, everybody I’ve served with on the Court I’ve regarded as a friend. Some were closer than others, but I didn’t consider myself an enemy of any of them. His approach to deliberation, in other words, is a reflection of his approach to public policy: adversarial and contentious, but conscious of avoiding the uncivil mistake of confusing opposition for enmity.

The fact of the matter is that, yes, Justice Antonin Scalia is a deeply polarizing figure in our polarized political landscape. In no small part because he was so colorful and so quotable, he is for many American progressives singularly villainous. And undoubtedly in part for that same reason, he is for many American conservatives singularly heroic.

But both of those characterizations miss the point of Scalia in this regard: as much as any political ideology, his commitment seems to have been to a process by which, through ardent but respectful disagreement, we come to decisions that are as thoroughly examined – and as well made – as they can possibly be.

His civility wasn’t the sort that manifested as politeness. But for all his penchant for provocation, we may be able to learn a thing or two about civility from Antonin Scalia.

A Note On the Passing of Justice Antonin Scalia

Opposites attract they say. And having an opposite also pushes us to better understand our own positions.

That’s the truth for us as the two co-founders of the Institute. We initially believed we were supporters of the same political party. We were wrong. The day we realized that we thought differently is the day we began to conceive of an Institute for Civility in Government. And in the friendship between Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, we cannot help but see ourselves.

They vacationed together, they debated together, and they worked together on the Supreme Court, all while respecting each other’s point of view. The two of us, Cassandra and Thomas, have also worked together, debated together, and vacationed together. And yet we think very differently from one another when it comes to politics, philosophy, and a lot of other things, too.

It’s these differences that have helped us understand our positions and ourselves better. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg says of Scalia:

We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh.

Isn’t it a shame that the immediate and constant attention of our country is focused on the rancor about how Justice Scalia will be replaced on the Court rather than first celebrating his life, mourning with his family, and laying him to rest? The civility that we try to promote is a force that would allow us to set aside political turmoil, at least long enough to stop and give thanks for the man’s public service.

We as a nation should rise to this occasion and take the time to reflect on Justice Scalia’s important contributions to American public life and on his loss as a fellow human being. We must consider how to fill is seat, but we stumble when we rush to focus on politics and partisan dispute without due time or due respect.

The Institute for Civility in Government does not endorse anyone, does not support any particular position. But we believe in the value of deliberation and the celebration of a life, and in seeking to learn from each other rather than lambasting others for who they are or what they believe. That is how we help each other be better. That is how we make the country better.

Justice Scalia’s passing, and Justice Ginsburg’s heartfelt words, should be a reminder. Not only do we all gain when we try to get along. We benefit most of all by having friends who do not think like us, who challenge us, and who enrich our own understanding of life.

— Thomas Spath and Cassandra Dahnke, Institute Co-Founders

Recent Poll Confirms: Civility Matters

AmacheChartWe here at the Institute all already knew it was true, but it’s confirmed: Americans do in fact care about civility. According to a recent poll conducted by communications firms Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, with KRC Research, the great majority of likely voters in the upcoming Presidential race say that they care about the civility of their candidates, and say that civility will make a difference in who they vote for when they go to the polls.

Ninety-three percent, in fact, say that a candidate’s tone or level of civility will be an important factor for them in the election. Of those, more than half report that it is a “very” important factor. And more than half also report that the civility of the race makes a difference in how enthusiastic they are about voting at all.

The poll shows some relatively small differences in results along party lines. Voters who identify as Democrats seem to be more emphatic about the importance of civility, with 61 percent reporting that it is “very” important, to Republican voters’ 44 percent. And voters who identify as Democrats seem to see the current tenor of the election as being slightly more uncivil than their Republican counterparts, with 60 percent reporting that this is the case, as opposed to 55 percent.

More interesting in this regard, however, is how members of each party perceive the civility of the other:

There is a noticeable split in their reaction to the presidential debates. Majorities in both parties view the Republican debates as generally uncivil but nearly two-thirds of Democrats see their own party’s debate as civil, while nearly half of Republicans say the Democrats’ debates have been uncivil.

The purported incivility of the Republican debates seems to boil down to one clear factor: the presence of Donald Trump. Members of both parties perceive Trump to be the least civil candidate in the Presidential race, with 79 percent reporting that this is the case.

But in terms of the Democratic debates, the cause of the split in perception is less clear. Voters may perceive Hillary Clinton as uncivil, but not nearly in the same numbers as Donald Trump.

One possible cause of this split is the type of implicit bias we’ve discussed here on the blog before. In December, we reported on a study by political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean J. Westwood that suggested that the system of political parties in the United States increasingly resembles a form of tribalism, where party affiliation bleeds into personal identity and affects seemingly non-political aspects of our lives like our perceptions of the sort of people who make appropriate friends, or even appropriate mates for our children.

Iyengar and Westwood used a computerized test to reveal embedded, unconscious partisan biases: that test-takers who identify as Republicans and conservatives code things associated with the Republican Party as “good” and things associated with the Democratic Party as “bad”; while for Democrats and liberals, it is the inverse.

This suggests a kind of blind-spot for politically engaged Americans – for the sort who identify themselves as likely to vote, and who follow the primary debates closely enough to have an opinion. Among people who fall into this category, it seems probable that partisans on the Democratic side would perceive their own debates as more civil than they actually are, while Republican partisans would perceive them to be less civil.

In terms of Republican debates, in other words, the perception of Trump as uncivil is enough to balance out implicit biases. While for perceptions of Democratic debates, implicit bias triumphs and the truth about their relative civility probably falls somewhere in the middle.

In any case, Weber Shandwick’s Civility in America study makes encouraging news for civility advocates, no matter their party preference. It suggests that Americans would largely be amenable to a shift in tone among candidates for public office. And with three quarters saying that the media has a responsibility to decrease incivility, it suggests that Americans would applaud a shift in tone among news organizations, too.

Nothing about this study offers a specific way forward to a different kind of political climate in the United States. But given just how pro-civility participants in this study seem to be, it does confirm what we at the Institute have been saying all along: that a way forward to a more civil politics is in fact within our means.