Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement joins call for civility, presidential debate standards

By Larry Rosenthal

Today the Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement at the Goldman School of Public Policy joined the National Institute for Civil Discourse in calling on the presidential debate moderators to adopt a set of standards to ensure that the 2016 presidential debates are fair, informative and civil.

Linguist George Lakoff says Donald Trump's use of language on the campaign trail is 'anything but 'Word Salad.' (iStock Photo.)

We are among more than 60 organizations signing on to ask for the standards, which include guidelines for moderators, the audience and the candidates.

According to recent polling, 69 percent of Americans agree that civility has decreased in the last few years, and 2 out of 3 voters say the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign is less civil than other elections.

The only way to restore civility and respect in our political campaigns, and our government, is for people to stand up and demand better treatment. The American people have grown tired of all the distraction and theater. Our national concerns and pressing policy problems are far too important. How have all our choices about the future become mired in such pettiness and selfishness?

Everyone knows we can do better, and these debate standards reflect that.

The debate standards include:

1. Be respectful of others in speech and behavior.

2. Answer the question being asked by the moderator.

3. Make ideas and feelings known without disrespecting others.

4. Take responsibility for past and present behavior, speech and actions.

5. Stand against incivility when faced with it.

We want moderators to:

1. Address uncivil behavior by naming it and moderating the conversation to move toward a more respectful dialogue.

2. Enforce debate rules equally.

3. Hold candidates accountable by challenging each candidate to speak the truth and act with integrity.

4. Treat all candidates equally in regards to the complexity of questions and debate rules.

5. Be respectful when interacting with candidates.

Wewant audience members to:

1. Be respectful of other audience members, the candidates and moderators in speech and behavior.

2. Refrain from creating disturbances to other audience members, candidates and moderators.

3. Take responsibility for personal behavior, speech and actions.

4. Speak against incivility by reminding candidates it is not acceptable.

5. Practice active listening when someone else is speaking, seeking to understand them.

The presidential debates are scheduled for September 26, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York; October 9 at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri; and on October 19 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

Public dialogue often lacks civility and efforts toward policy consensus rarely enjoy broad democratic engagement. Todays hardened lines of political division threaten to aggravate and perpetuate social problems.

The Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement focuses on preparing current and future leaders to successfully engage people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints in resolving public policy issues. The need for more effective and successful democratic engagement is clearly seen in the paralysis and acrimony in our state and national governments and violence worldwide.

Through research, teaching, fellowships/internships and public events, students and the wider public learn about the range of deep beliefs and values which drive human social behavior. Along with acquiring expertise in democratic engagement, this knowledge is essential in helping diverse stakeholders achieve productive and enduring resolutions to pressing issues facing societies today.

The center was founded by the Class of 68 to explore the legacy and advance the aspirations that characterize the spirit of the class and their time at Cal.

The National Institute for Civil Discourse, is a non-profit, non-partisan institute based at the University of Arizona. It is dedicated to addressing incivility and political dysfunction in American democracy by promoting structural and behavioral change.