To say that the first presidential debate did not go well would be an understatement. Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden childishly bickered over one another. Meanwhile, Americans were left without a clear understanding of either man’s policies and other countries laughed and wondered if this is what our country – and the democratic process – has come to.
It’s beyond disheartening to know that the two people running to become the leader of the world’s most powerful country seem to lack the ability to partake in a civil, respectable discussion where they share their stances on social issues, lay out their economic plans and inform their constituents on how their administration will protect the environment.
Regardless of who, if anyone, you believe won that hot mess of a debate, it’s impossible to deny that we seem to have lost the ability to engage in civil discourse. The days of Aristotle's art of rhetoric, with well thought out arguments and the polite sharing of differing opinions, are long gone and that’s not good.
The presidential debate certainly wasn't the first instance of our society’s inability to respect one another’s contrasting views. PEW Research Center found that more and more Americans cannot even manage to find a level of commonality between themselves and someone of the opposite political party back in 2018.
Social media has made us more willing to use the “yell like hell” tactic when we find ourselves face to face with someone who thinks differently. Timothy Connor, an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law, points out that our social media platforms inflate our perceived self-importance, making us want to take more extreme stances in order to stand out. I think he’s right. It’s not trendy to find middle ground, but having totally different and one-of-a-kind, rather extreme viewpoints is because they make us more prominent.
But when we take the “yelling like hell” route and embrace the state of uncivil discourse instead of hearing each other out, we don’t just disagree with each other. We distrust, dislike and at times even despise those who don’t agree with us.
Civil discourse doesn’t mean self-censorship or completely avoiding political conversation. It's just the opposite. The more we look out for and embrace contradicting opinions and viewpoints we don’t quite understand, the more we can find middle ground and stop seeing people for their beliefs and who they vote for, and instead see them for their personalities and actions.
Thankfully, you don’t have to look far for resources that aim to help us learn the lost art of civil discourse. Organizations like the National Conversation Project provide a platform for respectful discussion on immigration, gun rights, free speech and just about every other hot topic in today’s political climate, with both in-person and virtual opportunities. Converge Nebraska is the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska program that pairs students with opposing political views together to take part in civil conversation and learn from one another. Though you’ll have to wait until next year to register for the program, there’s no reason you can’t make your own opportunities for civil discussion.
Watch the next debate with your liberal friend. Don’t switch seats at Thanksgiving dinner when your die-hard Republican uncle goes off about taxes. Put yourself in those uncomfortable situations and engage in civil discourse, before it disappears forever.
Chloe Herbert is a freshman history major. Reach her at email@example.com.