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Uncivil Discourse: Modern Media’s Ideological Junkspace

Political discussions in the public realm have become increasingly shallow: something more akin to a children’s mud fight than the rational discourse America’s founders hoped would characterize the civic life of the American republic.

Modern political discourse specializes in imputing motives—mostly bad ones—to one’s adversaries. Rarely, if ever, are one’s opponents taken as honest interlocutors arguing in good faith.

Given the self-evidence of our side’s arguments and the righteousness of our side’s cause, we think, our opponents must either be fools or scoundrels—probably both. They are obviously insincere, deceitful, duplicitous, fraudulent, misleading, unscrupulous, underhanded, and biased; their charges “trumped up”; their accusations “dishonest”; and their solutions “self-serving.”

Disagreements are essential to any functioning democracy and can be a sign of its health and vitality. However, the tone and increasing lack of basic civility that have come to categorize public discourse should disturb us. Expressing offense or indignation at someone else’s words or actions has become the dominant theme of the overwhelming majority of newspaper editorials, letters to the editor, and blog posts.

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