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Can Civility Survive the 2016 Elections?

Tim Danahey

Tim Danahey, Coffee Party USA Director of Public and Member Relations

The 2016 campaign season has already begun and the first casualties may be civility and dialogue.  The New York Times reported the process of “unfollowing”, “unfriending”, and “hiding” posts on Facebook is underway as polarized friends, family, and associates cannot tolerate the attacks on each other's beliefs and opinions.

The Times reported how a Hillary Clinton supporter in Texas “lost touch with many great friends of mine due to social media providing a platform for political discussion”.  She simply said, “If I see somebody that is just so hateful, then of course I'm going to unfollow them.”

 The story continues as sons no longer communicate with fathers, fraternity brothers exchange taunts, friends turn on friends, and in-laws grow further apart.  It is not a good sign and we must not become susceptible to this trend.

 As Coffee Party USA members, we are active in our beliefs, we support various candidates, and our disapproval of certain announced positions is evident.  However, if we know the attack on civility is going to test our tolerance, then we can prepare for it.  Here are some ideas: 

  1. If someone is strident and elevated while expressing their views, don't disagree with them. Simply and calmly ask them to explain their views.  Express your interest and ask them for their sources. Usually, a strident person is acting on passion and calms with their inability to factually support their views. That is not a victory for you to proclaim.  Let them reach their own realization.
  2.  Don't expect to change anyone's mind with a war of words.  Ask them what they would like you to research upon parting and suggest “an interesting” source “they might like”.   It gives the other person the opportunity to think they might be influencing you and your thoughtfulness may open a new opinion for them.
  3.  If you personalize the discussion by using actual candidates (Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Bernie Sanders, etc), then you will find yourself endlessly defending inaccurate perceptions of candidates.  Don't push a candidate or criticize the other candidate.  Bring up an issue and ask how their candidate thinks about that issue.   You will be surprised how many people don't know.  That can open a door for you to say your candidate supports or opposes that issue.  If you find issues with broad support (TPP, outsourcing, food labeling, tax reform, making government accountable, fighting money in elections, etc.), you can build respect by surprising the other person on how much you agree because you've removed the candidates as the focus of the discussion.
  4.  Many people are well-intentioned in their beliefs.  They love our country.  They want things to be better.  They want justice, job security, and a voice in our government.  So do we.  Don't attack something they believe will make our country better.  Offer your ideas to help them achieve their beliefs.  Engage in solutions for their problems.
  5.  Be quiet.  Let them do the talking.  I can illustrate this with an embarrassing personal story.  I was once at Disneyland with the family for some sort of holiday fireworks.  The place was packed.  It was a sea of people and my family was separating from me  in the crowd and I couldn't close the gap as the mass of humanity was too dense.  I lost them.  So I did the only thing a furious father and husband could do:  I went to lost and found and sat with four children who lost their parents.  When the Disneyland representative came out to talk to me in my fury, I exploded.  I ranted about how the park shouldn't sell this many tickets, it's ridiculous, etc., etc. About fifteen seconds into my rant, I realized this doe-eyed, polite, and quiet park representative was gently smiling and acting attentive to my every word.  I also realized, “That's all I have.  Fifteen seconds and I don't have anything else to say.  My rage must look really stupid.”  Lesson learned for me.  Her attentiveness and silence taught me my own lesson.

 There are many experts on these kind of issues.  The Coffee Party USA President, Debilyn Molyneaux, is exceptional on this subject.  The ideas I express are ideas I've used while campaigning for people running for office, while discussing issues with others, and being the only liberal living in a very conservative community.

We must not be so naive as to believe these few suggestions will placate every political opponent.  Sometimes you just have to say, “Go in peace” and walk away.  That's okay.  No matter how you handle the situation, kindness and civility rule the days in the long run.  Just like my idiocy at Disneyland, anger and partisanship don't do anything except confirm to the listener that I'm not worth the effort.

This will not be a friendly election.  We are a polarized nation.  That's why your participation and membership in the Coffee Party USA ideals are essential to move this country forward.