February 27, 2013
Political Incivility: The Decline of Decorum in America
Today, as I watched CNN’s headline news, I listened to Speaker of the House John Boehner tell the members of the U.S. Senate to “Get off their ass.” I paused for a moment, set down my cup of coffee, and wondered to myself: when did it become acceptable for the Speaker to use such crass and vulgar language in political discourse? Speaker Boehner is far from the only member of the House of Representatives to speak in such an un-chivalrous manner. Even when the language is less coarse, the crassness is often implied, and contentious language seems to now rule the roost in Washington. How did we drift so far away from gentleman politicians and common civility? Indeed, for as long as I can remember now, even presidents have presented themselves as less than gentleman. Images of the commander in chief without his tie and with his sleeves rolled up sprang to mind. Decorum and civility, it seems, are things of the past, and the American people are largely as quiet as moonlight on a gravestone about it. Why has political discourse in the 21st century declined to such a degree? Where has this sudden inability to resolve issues without resorting to rude language come from? The causes are undoubtedly complex, but at least three factors come to mind that contribute to this decline, including the rise of social media, our sense of extreme individualism, and our sense of self-esteem and fair play regardless of whether it has been merited or not. Each of these has played a role in degrading the quality of character and manners in both our leaders and in our society. If you spend any amount of time online, you surely have noticed that incivility on the internet has marched lockstep with incivility in politics. Of course, the decline of civility in politics did not happen overnight. It...