Elevating Civil Discourse
On Tuesday January 16, 2018, the Center co-hosted a panel discussion with America's Future Foundation in Dallas, Texas. 25 people came to the event, including many first-time attendees. Our panelists were Dr. Brandon Turner, Associate Professor of Political Science at Clemson University and Dr. Benjamin Berger, Associate Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College.
The topic for the evening was civil discourse and civic engagement. The group kicked off the night by exploring the various causes of incivility and polarization today, including technological innovations like social media and broader economic trends like globalization. People debated whether civil discourse is actually worse today than it used to be, citing the violence of the 1960s and the partisan homogeneity of media outlets in the past.
The conversation then shifted to a more philosophical discussion. The panelists shared several competing conceptions of tolerance and raised questions like: How does tolerance differ from full acceptance? What about indifference? Should we tolerate intolerance?
The moderator then asked the panelists to consider the relationship between civil discourse and broader civic engagement. She asked, how
can people engage productively as citizens, apart from voting in national elections? The group discussed the merits and barriers to engaging in local politics and the general decline of traditional civic institutions.
Finally, we considered the political climate more broadly and debated whether the populist groundswell we're experiencing today will continue, and for how long. The audience explored the notion of "politics as entertainment," in which Americans gravitate to superficial soundbites and demagogue-like candidates. Generally, the group concluded that the best thing to do is to ignore the chaos online and focus on building meaningful relationships and institutions in our local communities. We also agreed that we should be skeptical of both utopian and dystopian narratives and instead recognize the complexities of the world around us.