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.
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?
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).
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”