The Civility Question, An Incivility Equation

We all know that politicians do not play nice. But should they? On Jan. 13, the Des Moines Register and the Ray Center hosted a panel discussion on civility in politics. As a panelist I made my opinion known: we do not actually want our politicians to be civil.

The drama is just too enthralling. If campaigns were all about the issues, and not about attacking the opposition, candidates would pass out pamphlets and say “see you on caucus night” but that is not what happens. They stand up and try to convince the audience that they are better/nicer/stronger/more qualified than any of the other candidates by bashing the other candidates. And we eat it up. We are living in a reality show era and our political climate shows us that.

What is the ultimate reality competition one-liner? “I’m not here to make friends.” That is so Trump. He is constantly expressing to his audience that he does not care who he pisses off, he cares about winning. And it is terrifyingly effective. You could argue (and I do) that Trump has no plans or opinions on policy, yet he is a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. We as Americans obviously do not want our politicians to play nice.

Hillary Clinton, the ultimate “politician” of the 2016 race, does not play nice either. In all of her public showings, she establishes an us-versus-them mentality between the inclusive, intelligent Democrats and the mean, clueless Republicans. That name-calling is incivility. All politicians do it. And they would not do it if it did not get results.

The guy who “will only discuss the issues” is getting 0–3 percent of the press coverage. Sad but true. The candidate who will offend 33 percent of the world’s population is making the 6 o’clock news. It is a simple equation:

Incivility = Press coverage = Name recognition = More votes.

We as a society reward the “bad” behavior, so we get more of it. Will we ever get sick of it? That is the only way to get civility into American politics; to reward candidates for good behavior.

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