The Lost Art of Political Civility

Election Day Eve. For most people, it means we are one day closer to the best day of the election cycle­—the day it ends.

I am unlike most people. Typically, I love election season. “Saturday Night Live” content is richer. TV ads that sell insurance, cars, and gum are replaced by ones that sell ideas. Water cooler conversations turn from celebrity chatter to “Morning Joe“-style policy discussions.

It’s hard to escape the election buzz in North Carolina. Our agency is located on Hillsborough Street, where both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will hold events later today. Raleigh is the only city in the country where both candidates will make an appearance in the final hours of the campaign. Airwaves are buzzing with last-minute advertising dollars. Today’s New York Times moves the state’s top races to the “tossup” column. Early voting lines were up to four hours long in some parts of the state. We, as North Carolinians, pride ourselves on the “purple” association of the state.

This cycle, however, has been markedly different from elections of years past. The mudslinging competition for the top office in the nation has had a profound impact on political discourse in our state and across our country. Instead of productive conversations, we’ve entered into a season of angry arguments, violence against campaigns, and smear tactics that barely touch any of the real issues at hand in our country. Scrolling through our social media feeds, we see acquaintances, friends, and family posting divisive diatribes with a slew of spiteful comments posted underneath.

Somehow, our two leading political parties have nominated the most unpopular candidates of all time. For many voters, the choice is against a candidate rather than in favor of a candidate. You would think this reality would allow for compassionate conversations where we’re able to admit this is not an ideal situation. Unfortunately, the dialogue remains vicious.

The Problem

I would contend that the central problem of this election is bigger than the Trump/Clinton divide: we have lost the art of political civility.

From the start of this country, we’ve had a widespread array of opinions. The appreciation for diversity of thought has created a country that prides itself for the ability to be unique. We link arms together to protect the speech that our freedom affords. We differentiate ourselves in the world because the discussion of ideas hasn’t divided or threatened us; it defines us.

This shift away from positive discourse is overwhelming. I’m a millennial; my generation is the one that will be left to reap the seeds of dissension sown in this election. Regardless of tomorrow’s outcome, we have a lot to overcome.

Be Part of the Solution

I would argue that in the wake of tomorrow’s election, the largest impact we make can take the smallest amount of effort.

When you talk to your frustrated family members, your aggravated coworkers, and your “friends” on social media, approach your conversation with empathy and understanding. You don’t have to agree in order to be civil.

We must work together to restore the common humanity we have as citizens. Don’t throw away your opinions or your passion because the election is over. Rather, realize that your words have the possibility to either mend or exacerbate the problem of political division.

Particularly here in North Carolina, we have an opportunity. All eyes are on us. How will you respond?