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posted Oct 27, 2016 in Etiquette & Manners / Current Affairs / by Joanne Blake / 4 comments

Civility vs the 2016 Presidential Election

Presidential Manners? How Low Can Donald and Hillary Go?

Picture of boy and girl arguing - illustrating the incivility of presidential electionHas the US election lowered the bar on civility?

As a polite Canadian and business etiquette expert, the American election has been both fascinating and disturbing. It makes our Canadian elections seem pretty tame, in a good way. Leaders in Canada debate the issues and rarely let personal differences or personality sidetrack them.

Debates or tantrums

The same cannot be said for the American presidential campaign. I was dismayed watching the presidential debates. It was like watching a couple of kids bad mouthing each other at the school playground. Unfortunately watching this kind of display normalizes bad behaviours and has a trickle-down effect. If leaders can’t control themselves, how can business people or ordinary citizens be expected to take the high road?

Americans are dismayed too

I just listened to a fascinating panel discussion on NPR National Public Radio about the decline of civility in US politics. While the panelists had varying views, none of them lost their cool while discussing it. Below are some of the great points they made. (click here to listen to the 15 minute show on civility and the presidential campaign or read the text).

Lack of civility in politics a crisis

The panelists quoted a recent survey that found 76 percent of surveyed Americans believe the lack of civility in politics is a “crisis.” In that same survey, twice as many voters blame Donald Trump for the rising incivility. Calling his opponent “the devil,” “a liar” and “a nasty woman”, some say reflects a change in the culture of manners and decorum, including a blurring of the lines between private and public talk.

Like slamming a door in your face

One the guests, author Deborah Tannen said it best. “Most of us think of civility as a level of politeness, so for example, holding the door for the person behind you. What we're dealing with now goes beyond that. It's a kind of verbal violence, almost. Maybe the metaphor would be not holding the door open but slamming the door in the face of the person behind you.”

Violent consequences?

Tannen took it a step further. “We're not talking about anybody not being allowed to express any opinion at all. But when it becomes belligerent, when it becomes vitriolic, when it becomes personal, when it becomes threatening -- We do see cases where physical fights are breaking out, physical attacks follow because of the level of hatred and animosity that is stirred up by a certain kind of rhetoric."

Rude Children

As presidential politics degenerates into the caustic realm of reality TV, it’s hard to not follow suit, let alone try to teach etiquette and civility to children. In future, we may have to admonish children when they’re rude to “Stop acting like the President.”

(Click here to listen to the Diane Rehm radio show on civility and the presidential campaign)

Posted by Joanne Blake - the Canadian business etiquette expert and civility in politics and life promoter
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About Joanne Blake

Canadian speaker, corporate image consultant & business etiquette expert. If you're interested in booking (Joanne) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me or visit my conference page. Based in the Calgary/Edmonton, Alberta in western Canada.

4 comments below

...add yours

Nov 01, 2016 at 6:19am

David Boles says:

Great post and it’s so true that Politics have reached a new low with the antics going on between Clinton and Trump. It is a nasty nasty election indeed…

The question is; is this one off or the trend and will there be some spillover impact on Canadian Politics?

Nov 01, 2016 at 7:59am

Joanne Blake says:

We can learn what not to do from poor role models. Let’s hope that good prevails on the part of our politicians and citizens alike. Thanks for your comments David.

Dec 05, 2016 at 2:52pm

J.B. says:

I watched a few of the presidential debates and have to say I was shocked by what I observed coming out of the mouths’ of both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. They demonstrated poor role models for our youth.
I believe that when you insult someone, #1 you have lost your focus, #2 you demonstrate your level of maturity and lastly you have lost your debate.
Both Donald and Hillary should have avoided the issue of the scandals the other has been involved in and saved that for the media.
Essentially they both needed to stay focused on their platform and focus on how if elected what and how they will change what needs to be changed to make the nation a better place to live for the people.

Dec 05, 2016 at 4:39pm

Joanne Blake says:

Hi J.B.

Thanks for sharing your insights. I couldn’t agree with you more!

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