US Representatives Upton and Dingell called for civility in political discourse

KALAMAZOO, MI – A day before the August 2 primary, a pair of American representatives from opposing parties stopped by Western Michigan University to talk about civility and partisanship in modern politics.

The event was hosted by the university as part of the WMU initiative “We Talk: Civic Discourse,” which focuses on the importance of constructive engagement with people who have different viewpoints. The event was moderated by WMU President Edward Montgomery.

Appearing at the hearing with Montgomery U.S. Representatives Debbie Dingell, Dearborn, and Fred Upton, R. St. Joseph, both members of the bipartisan problem-solving congress.

The two MPs spoke about their longstanding friendship outside the political arena, the receiving of death threats from angry voters, the change in how the media accommodates in an age of the 24/7 news cycle, and the danger that politics will stymie progress and relations in an age of caustic and partisan politics.

This discourse, Dingell said, should start at the community level.

“You can’t just look at us and tell us we have to talk to each other,” she said. Every American should worry about his democracy. Congress is a representative body. Therefore, it represents the inhabitants of what you see.

“Look how easy it is for people to be bullied online. Watch what happens to our young children in schools. And our shopping malls, cinemas, which people go to with offensive weapons. We each have a responsibility to treat each other with respect, demand civility, and tone down.”

Upton, who was on his last term before his retirement, agreed with that view. Talk about the importance of the problem-solving group in Congress and how it can serve as an example to those when discussing differences and similarities.

“Relationships are really important; getting to know people.” “We got together to solve problems, made up of 60 members, you bring in one employee and absolutely nothing leaked. You trust each other. You sit next to Republicans and Democrats. They know you won’t fight them.”

“We have a vow of civility. We get to know their families and their spouses and you get to know some of that character out there.”

As part of that pledge, Upton said, there’s no yelling at each other.

There is also no crackdown on other members of the rally, Dingell said, which is something that leads to trust.

“We prepare meals together, we walk together to vote, and we sit together on the floor,” Upton said. “When you have such a close margin between the letters R and D, a problem-solving group, if it can stay consistent, can really make a difference.”

The two politicians agreed on the importance of this, because it is necessary at a time when so many bills — such as the recent “toxic arson” bill to help veterans — die when the parties refuse to work together.

John Clark, head of WMU’s Department of Political Science, asked representatives what citizens could do differently to help, because it is citizens who motivate elected officials.

“There have been over 60 members of the House of Representatives that have been interested in solving problems and now it seems to many members of (Congress) that they are responding to incentives which basically say that the biggest problem is there are too many people from the other party here, so it’s not about fixing politics public policy or using public policy to address problems and more about the upcoming elections and how one side can raise the other side in the next election,” Clark said.

Noting the large size of districts, the need for campaign finance reform, and the low turnout expected in elections such as Tuesdays, Upton suggested that no more than 15% of registered voters should vote.

“I would say it’s not just about the money or the party, but everyone is afraid of Donald Trump,” Dingell added.

Dingell said bipartisan infighting and support often leads to the election of candidates from the extremists over the more moderate ones.

“The silent majority needs not to be silent and needs to demand accountability from their elected officials,” she said. “Both parties allow some people to control that should not dominate.”

When asked by Montgomery how best to be respectful when disagreeing, Upton said it starts with honesty.

“I think you just have to be honest from the start,” he said. “If you’re not going to agree on something, then make it known. You can have a definitely friendly and nice discussion and move on to something else.

“I think it’s game play that makes people angry.”

Dingell agreed, saying that she and Upton are both solution-driven and know the issues they would agree on.

“One of the things that’s happening in this country that I think is a danger to all of us are people who are deliberately trying to undermine credibility and people’s trust in institutions,” she said. “They are trying to do it on purpose so that people don’t trust the media and when you don’t have trust, and your institutions don’t have credibility, your democracy is in real danger.”

Dingell also noted that the 24/7 cycle is driving some of this division.

“The media has changed,” she said. “There were three networks and no one thought their network had political bias, the way you think Fox News is conservative and say CNN and MSNBC are also left. But we stopped investing in smaller local newspapers, they don’t have the resources or money to cover those local issues to hold accountable. People “.

Upton also raised a problem with the state of the media today.

“I blame the media for so much of what we have today just because I don’t see them being nearly as responsible for what was going on before,” Upton said. “Now you have your news 24/7 and people are drawn to whatever perspective they might want.”

As a result, he said, misinformation can spread and spread at viral speed.

“Social media, which was supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced ​​bread became a source of damage,” Dingell said. “I think it puts people against each other. There are a lot of wrong facts.”

There is a significant risk, Dingell said, that there are many media sites that have appeared to play for specific candidates and issues, but they are not doing the work of holding these and other candidates to account.

The biggest danger, she said, is people’s inability to find common ground despite differing opinions.

“I think we’re Americans first, Democrats and Republicans second,” Dingell said. “You have to try to bring people together and find common ground. If you’ve attacked someone deeply, or if you’ve offended their integrity, or if you’ve been name-calling or bullying, it’s very hard to trust them afterwards.”

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