Civility a casualty of presidential election, civility expert says


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It has been a nasty presidential campaign with neither candidate appearing particularly presidential.

The attacks have been personal.

The focus has been on crude videos and prior infidelities.

Donald Trump calls Hillary Clinton a terrible woman and a liar.

Hillary counters that Donald is crazy and unstable.

The lack of civility in our public discourse is at an all-time high as the candidates’ approval ratings are at an all-time low.

“I think it’s become a fairly ugly stew, our national politics right now,” said Dr. Jim Mullen, president of Allegheny College which annually awards a prize for civility in public office. Last year’s winners were John McCain and Joe Biden.

Next year’s winners will likely not be Trump or Clinton, or US Senate candidates Pat Toomey or Katie McGinty for that matter.

“The American people seem to be becoming numb to the incivility that is happening in our midst,” Mullen said during remarks in Harrisburg Monday.

Allegheny College has been tracking incivility and quantifying it. In 2010, 85 percent of Americans thought it acceptable for elected officials to form relationships with members of the opposite party. This year, 2016, that number has dropped to 56 percent thinking it’s OK.

Mullen fears the lack of civility will chase young people from what he calls the ‘nobleness of public service.’

“I just worry they’re gonna be moved away from politics because they see it as uncivil, cynical, and, at the end of the day, you can’t get anything done.”

Senator Scott Wagner (R-York) says he was victimized by personal, negative attack ads while running for office. “I wake up one morning and there’s the worst picture of me and the ad says millionaire trash man spewing more garbage,” Wagner said.

Of course, Wagner has been accused of uncivil behavior, particularly toward unions, and of bullying political enemies since taking office. He sat front and center at Mullen’s talk on the need for civility and agrees with the conclusion.

“The only way we’re gonna get things done is we do have to work together,” Wagner said. “But again there are some extreme people in both parties.”

But to Mullen, all sides need to be more extreme in pursuing civility.

“Civility starts with an understanding that we may disagree,” Mullen said. “We may hold very different positions but I am going to respect you as a person and I am going to be humble enough to hear you and listen to you and debate you on what I believe are the facts.”Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download our News App and our Weather App for your phone and tablet.

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