There’s a political communications course offered at Ohio Northern University. The ideal is teaching young people who may end up working in politics how to effectively communicate with candidates, the public and, yes, the opposition.
“I keep having to cancel it because no one is willing to take it,” said Jennifer Walton, associate professor of communication students and the department chair for communication and media studies at the university in Ada. “I think students are afraid to take it. They’re afraid that in class, if they’re asked to voice an opinion, they’d get attacked.
“A lot of people are so nervous to talk about politics because as soon as they say something someone disagrees with, it’s over.”
That seems to be the state of politics and talking about politics in this country nowadays. The greater good isn’t the greatest good. All that matters is winning, no matter the cost, right?
“There is such a threatening tone, and all sides are taking this tone,” Walton said, who labeled the current political tone as “violent.” “It’s like they’re playing off each other.”
We’ve watched Democrats sully the name of someone now on the Supreme Court, accusing him of alcoholism and aggressive sexual behavior without a lot of hard, provable facts.
“A lot of people compared it to a circus, but circuses are entertaining,” Walton said.
“There are more important, substantive issues out there,” Walton said, “that everyday Americans worry about, like their jobs leaving, putting food on the table, security, safety, all of those things. So much of the discourse is just about a lot of unnecessary insults and name-calling.”
For years, I’ve become disillusioned about the uncivil discourse in politics. I see it when we talk to candidates at the newspaper all the time. It’s harder and harder for people to tell you how they’re qualified or what they plan to do if elected. It’s easier and easier to attack the other guy.
I found an unexpected ally in this concern. This week, Ohio Gov. John Kasich published an op-ed in USA Today, “US needs to get past zero-sum ‘I win, you lose’ politics we saw in Kavanaugh fight.”
Why would Kasich, who made an unsuccessful run for president against Trump and could be warming up for another, be an unexpected ally? Well, honestly, Kasich yelled at me one time I interviewed him.
After a loss in the statewide vote about rolling back collective bargaining for public employees, I asked him if he would sign legislation on it if it went through the Republican-backed house and senate. He raised his voice, called my question stupid and talked about other hypotheticals, such as what would happen if a meteor flew through the big window of The Lima News’ conference room.
Little did I know the whole topic may have tempered the fiery Republican eventually. In USA Today, he said he “learned from that failure.”
“Seeing what we’ve accomplished in Ohio with a united approach, I think that we are overdue, nationally, for a really deep breath to cool off and think about the lost art of listening to one another,” Kasich wrote. “Relearning that represents a mighty U-turn from our emerging culture of conflict, and it begins with our leaders. They must lead by replacing the constant stream of combative talk with civil discourse and cooperation.”
I posted Kasich’s column on my Facebook page earlier this week, asking for friends’ feedback on what they do to either avoid being uncivil or admit what they do that might be hurting. I should’ve known better. A couple of college friends with opposite ideologies fought it out in messages back and forth about how the other side hadn’t tried to understand its point of view without resorting to name-calling.
Moving past that is the first step toward a more civil union. Walton had a similar response in the comments to an analysis she published in USA Today too.
“We need to be more civilized. We need to actually use real debate, to have some substance in our retort,” Walton said.
Kasich talks about the “zero-sum game” in politics, where no one really wins. Walton talks about fending off “contagious negativity.” I want a political world where “compromise” is an admirable trait and not a weakness.
Whatever you call it, I urge us all to be slower with our retorts and spend a little more time understanding others’ points of view. That means listening carefully to friends and foes alike. It means finding common ground and working from a position of shared benefits. Our nation deserves that out of us.