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Can Post-2016 Politics Become More Respectful?

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis on Oct. 9, 2016.
Associated Press
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis on Oct. 9, 2016.
Can Post-2016 Politics Become More Respectful?
Can Post-2016 Politics Become More Respectful? GUESTS: Carl Luna, director, Institute for Civil Civic Engagement Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director, National Institute for Civil Discourse

For democracy to work, people need to agree to disagree and still work together. The language used in political discourse in campaigns is not helping. Rude tweets and name-calling have become the standard ways to simply dismiss an opponent without actually engaging in a debate of ideas. This week is the challenge to re-examine the value of respect, the six annual conference on restoring stability to the civil dialogue takes place in San Diego. Its founder, Mesa College political science professor Carl Luna is here with us in studio. He is also the director for the University of San Diego's Institute for Civil Civin Engagement. Thanks so much for joining us. Nice to be here. We also have Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of the national Institute for Civil Civic Engagement. She is going to be moderating the keynote at the event. Thank you for joining us. I am delighted to be with you. Give us a recap on where you think the political discourse is now and how it compares to previous years. On the bright side, we have not ascended to the violence in the past, 1960s, riots, the assassinations. We have come a good ways but not are where we thought we would be headed, with an inclusive dialogue that brings everybody to the table with respect. The 2016 campaign, one thing Democrats and Republicans agree on 83% in the pew research poll, they were disgusted by the whole process. The amount that was being flown. If you are focusing on that, you are not focusing on the real problems which keep we, the communities and people together. Is there a time that we are trying to get back to? Even though seems seem bad now, has it always been a struggle? There isn't any question, argumentative debates have always been part of the American political scene. But I do think there is pretty rich data that demonstrates that we have had a low that has not been seen in the U.S. previously. Frankly, political scientists say since the Civil War and Reconstruction. Where the whole political lingo is really attack the character, really do moral absolutism. So if you don't hold the same position on the issue I do, I am in some way a better person than you are. Yes, I think we are trying to restore, revive a level of civility and respect in our political and public discourse that we have enjoyed in the past. It is not just about the presidential election, is it? How would you rate our local political activity? In San Diego, we try to be politically correct. Look at the issues over Logan, the San Diego Chargers, minimum-wage debates, over trying to make San Diego a 21st, going out to 2017 city. We have two much -- we have too much dialogue. We have workshops and panels with different practitioners that can show community groups, students and organizations how to get a dialogue going. What you do with it is up to you. Even though we have a relatively moderate mayor, what you're saying is the discussion is not going down to a community level. The problem is you have nine people in the city Council, people on board of supervisors, people come in and give open testimony to them. We lack a lot of good connectivity between all the different groups out there to form a good structure where groups can actually make the view of the community not only known but actually negotiate with other groups without having to always go through the formal processes. You said that civility needs to start at the local level. Why not focus on those people in power in DC? Obvious figureheads. And use them as high-profile examples to inspire those in states and city legislatures. I think, we do highlight any time particular members of the two different parties do really work hard to compromise and collaborate. Senator Patty Murray, Senator Lamar Alexander, when they were able to pass an education bill in the last Congress when literally almost no legislation was passing. Unfortunately, because of the viciousness and vitriol of the presidential election, at the moment, most of the public does not have a belief or does not find any dialogue at the national level inspiring. Can you give us any examples of states that are doing it right? One of the most exciting programs at the Institute of civil discords -- discourse is called next-generation. And we work in states, we have now works in 15 states across the country where we bring together Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Independents and we create an experience for them to share, called, building trust through civil discourse. There has been very impressive results in Maine, in Ohio, in Iowa, in Idaho, in Arkansas. So, what you discover, very similar to members of the public, if you can create the conversation that gets to values, that gets to an understanding of why you hold you you hold, people actually want to problem solve on the issues facing their communities or their state. We have been driven into this polarization that is not particularly natural for most people. So there are many examples that I think are very, very hopeful at the state and local level. It is worth mentioning that the media plays a role in this. Obviously they give more attention to people who are unsettled and those who are being civil. By the way, we should mention KPBS is a media partner for this event this week. And reforms should media be thinking about? We have a panel that will have Martha Burnett, Scott Lewis and Natalie Walsh from KPBS talking about these things. People from the India Tribune and other organizations in town. How do you use words in an age where post-troop was the dominant word of the year? We have to look at models of how you hold people accountable without turning people off. One of the problems is when there's conflict itself, it makes people tune in. Cable news has gone that way, Breitbart and a lot of things have gone that way. One of the things we will be looking at is how we establish common understandings that you can move forward with. Any bright spots in terms of what you see happening moving forward? The next generation is the bright spot. Millennials, having seen what my generation, the baby boomers, due to discourse, and are looking for new ways to try to engage in their communities. And not wait for existing power structures to solve things for them. So, the conference is set for Tuesday at University of San Diego's Institute of peace and justice. Carl, thank you so much for joining us. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, thank you for being with us. My pleasure.

Experts say the 2016 presidential election was one of the nastiest in modern American politics. Rude tweets and name-calling have become standard ways to simply dismiss political opponents without engaging in a substantive debate.

That lack of political civility has affected nonpolitical relationships too, said Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of the University of Arizona's National Institute for Civil Discourse. She recently got an email from a minister about to officiate a wedding concerned because the two families are caught up in political bickering.

"The public now understands that a chasm has been opened up between ordinary people, not just politicians," Lukensmeyer said. "We have to do something about this in our own hometowns."

Lukensmeyer will be in San Diego Tuesday and Wednesday for the sixth annual "Conference on Restoring Civility to Civic Dialogue," organized by the University of San Diego's Institute for Civil Civic Engagement. She has worked with more than a dozen state legislatures running workshops on how to govern while still respecting your political opponents.

The most receptive states have been those with political leaders who are supportive of rank-and-file members participating and an equal number of Republicans and Democrats attending, Lukensmeyer said. But one of the most important predictors, she said, is whether the legislators themselves can identify what is keeping them from treating each other with civility and respect.

"The attention is going to people who are being uncivil," she said.

Lukensmeyer and Institute for Civil Civic Engagement director Carl Luna joined KPBS Midday Edition on Monday to discuss how they are trying to create a more respectful political atmosphere.