Recently, a number of different events happened that really brought home to me the negative effects that social media have had on politics and political discourse. The word that kept coming to mind was civility.
Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan visited Alaska during the Congressional recess last week. Called a “State Work Period” by Congress, it was more commonly known as “Resistance Recess,” during which constituents were encouraged to stand up and resist President Trump and Congress’s agenda.
Alaska’s Congressional delegation chose not to hold public town halls, even though they held fundraisers at private clubs. Perhaps the anger and shouting that was such an important feature of town halls around the country was the reason, or maybe they felt they didn’t need to face their constituents directly like that.
Resisters in Juneau gathered in peaceful silence in support of immigrants and refugees, and at rallies calling for public town halls, saving the ACA and our environment, supporting Planned Parenthood, and fighting for human rights, among other things.
UAS Political Leadership and Civility Lecture
On Thursday, the University of Alaska Southeast hosted a program called “Political Leadership and Civility Lecture.” Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, Sen. Minority Leader Berta Gardner, Kenai Mayor Mike Navarre, and author and journalist Dermot Cole came together with UAS Professor Jim Powell to discuss how Alaskans can be civil in political discourse.
Throughout the program, I heard statements such as “civility is courtesy,” “treat others as you want to be treated,” and “respect.” Sen. Micciche read from “Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure,” specifically mentioning the importance of equality of members and acting with the premise that others’ intentions are honorable.
They also all agreed that social media, which has no such guide for civility, has turned political dialogue into complete incivility, sometimes making lifelong friends into enemies. As we all know, much that is said on social media would never be said face-to-face.
Services for Mike Miller, Juneau’s former Democratic State Representative
Then on Saturday, I attended the memorial service for Juneau’s former Democratic Representative Mike Miller. The speakers talked at length about Rep. Miller’s great decorum, respect for others, and his ability to work with those with opposing views and still get things done. He even led a weekly Bible study with legislators from both sides of the aisle and also attended by former Governor Hammond from time to time.
And I wonder, what would Rep. Miller – so famous for his ability to work with others – have done with the new social media tools available to legislators?
We can’t go back in time
Social media won’t go back into its bottle, but I cannot help but feel that it is in many ways the root of the rising hatred and incivility in our society. Perhaps it is the combination of performance and instant feedback that social media offers, or maybe it just came along at a pivotal time in our nation’s history.
But civility and civilization have the same root word, and each is needed so that the other can thrive.
We must be able to use technology to better connect our communities in a positive manner. We should be able to raise the bar on civility, not just on social media, but in all of our public discourse as well.
What would you do to bring civility into our social media and political discourse? That is just one of the questions I think we should all be asking, because our “civilized” world cannot continue down this uncivilized path.
Until next week….
Chair, Tongass Democrats