The 2016 election has left our country feeling more divided than ever. Not only did candidates increase political incivility in our country through disrespectful remarks and name calling, but the tone of the campaigns even led to physical violence.
In the years prior to the 2016 election, the public had already completely lost confidence in Congress -- with public opinion polls consistently showing less than 10 percent of Americans having any trust in the body. The first six weeks of the new administration have left many, both inside and outside the beltway, wondering what must be done to protect the core institutions of our democracy.
Tuesday night 28 Republicans and 18 Democrats -- the Freshman Class of the 115th Congress -- signed a Commitment to Civility. These were both Republicans and Democrats, from red states and blue states, from the North and the South. And the Sunshine State has reason to be proud as nine of their 11 Freshmen members (Representatives Crist, Dunn, Demings, Gaetz, Mast, Lawson, Rooney, Soto and Rutherford) signed the letter signaling their commitment to civility.
The Freshmen stood on the floor of the House speaking about why they signed the commitment and demonstrating their intention to act on their pledge. They spoke about what they learned from the people who elected them and why they know this commitment is a necessary step in order to work together to solve the major issues facing the country and to begin to build back the American people's trust in Congress.
We all owe these 46 new members of the House of Representatives a debt of gratitude for restoring our hope that we can once again have a government that works in the interest of all Americans.
These new members from Florida are dedicating themselves to showing proper respect to one another and modeling civility in all their actions. Recognizing that they will have significant disagreements on matters of policy and legislation, they commit to “…strive at all times to maintain collegiality and the honor of the office.” By doing this, they believe the Congress can work more effectively and even begin to restore public trust.
Their civility statement directly addresses the “… coarsening of our culture fueled too often by the vitriol in our politics and public discourse. One result has been a loss of trust in our institutions and elected officials.” They deserve our attention for acknowledging a reality we all know to be true.
Their statements were thoughtful and sincere. They were frank in their comments about the fact that upholding civility won’t be an easy task in today’s environment, but they all realize that disagreeing with someone doesn’t have to lead to a shouting match and name calling. They are adult enough to admit that sometimes you just have to agree to disagree and move on to the next issue, where your last opponent may be your strongest supporter. It is the way of politics -- it is the way of life -- and the fact they felt this was important enough, not only to each one of them, but to the group as a whole, shows that these bipartisan Floridians' commitment to the cause is strong.
President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address noted that “civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.” These members have made clear that their commitment is to their word and that they will move forward to do the job their constituents sent them to Washington to do, without succumbing to the rancor and viciousness that has been dominating our politics today. These 46 members deserve our praise and our sustained support.
We want to congratulate these members of Florida’s Freshmen Class in Congress and hope that their constituents let them know they are proud of their leadership and stand ready to support their commitment to civility in interacting with people who hold different views. We all have a role to play in reviving civility and respect, and we should thank Florida’s Freshmen for taking the lead.
Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer is the executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.