Guest Lecture on Solving Problem of Incivility in American Democracy

Monday, Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m., the Center of Global Understanding and Peacemaking at Elizabethtown College hosted a guest lecture in Gibble Auditorium on conflict in today’s political climate and how to improve civility in political discourse.

The speaker for the lecture was the president of the Gettysburg Foundation, Dr. Matthew Moen. He opened the lecture by talking about the horrors of the battle of Gettysburg, before speaking of the reconciliation and unity that followed in the aftermath. Nurses had cared for the wounded of both sides, regardless of which side they had fought for.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was more than just a moving tribute to the soldiers that died — it also spoke of redemption, forgiveness, and resilience. Dr. Moen compared the words of Lincoln with the rhetoric of today’s politics.

“Consider what’s conspicuously absent from his speech: triumphalism,” Dr. Moen said in his lecture. “[Lincoln] doesn’t gloat or malign the other side, doesn’t mention victory, or either side.”

Dr. Moen noted that the next generation of citizens must earn our democracy, as generations before have done. He argued that we must look for solutions to the problems we face today. While democracy is durable, it is not guaranteed, evidenced by how in recent years the United States has gone from a “full democracy” to a  “flawed democracy,” according to The Economist’s rankings of democracies.

“Hearing him list off all of the things that have happened in America within the last year, and hearing it all within a span of a minute or two, is rather alarming,” senior Sean McCubbin said. “But I think he did a good job of presenting a more optimistic tone and a list of realistic things that we could do.”

Dr. Moen gave many suggestions on how to improve civility in our democracy. To start with, he noted things people could do on an individual level, which included finishing their education, to embrace the world’s complexity, and to have a greater sense of personal humility in their political views.

“I think colleges should be models of civil discourse,” Director of the Center of Global Understanding and Peacemaking, Dr. Kenley, said. “If we cannot have disagreements in a respectful manner on a college campus, I’m not sure it’ll happen anywhere.”

Dr. Moen’s other suggestions were directed towards Congress. They included the removal of the one-minute speeches that often begin the legislative day, having citizen commissions draw districts to remove gerrymandering, and to make a switch to a system to publicly finance elections. He also made a call for tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to do a better job policing violent content, and to consider the possibility of regulating them as media companies.

“He not only talked on the level of civilians, but on the level of politicians and corporations and even included the tech aspect, which I think is really neat,” junior Amanda Ralff said.

Dr. Moen said he doesn’t expect every solution to work, but believes experimentation is key. With so much at stake, it is important to try, and he has faith in the new generation to do just that.


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