When State Rep. Mike Karickhoff (R-Kokomo) asked the crowd at a recent event hosted by the Greater Kokomo Chamber of Commerce Business Matters Luncheon if they believed civil discourse was a problem today, nearly every hand went up.
Similarly, most hands went up when Karickhoff asked if people believed civil discourse was the worst it has ever been.
During last week’s event, the state representative issued a call to those in attendance, telling them that fixing that issue was often on legislators’ minds, reinforced during various national conferences and conversations among lawmakers. But, fixing the issue, he said, likely would come down to a conscious effort by those who want to see civility return to public discourse.
“This political discourse that’s uncivil is a problem. It’s a complicated problem,” said Karickhoff. “It’s routinely discussed at all levels … I wish there was a simple solution, but there’s not. It starts with all of us individually.”
During his roughly 20-minute address, Karickhoff reiterated multiple points made recently by presidential historian Jon Meacham at a National Conference of State Legislators. Those points included ways to attempt to be a part of the solution, such as exercising listening and being aware of one’s own beliefs, perceptions, biases, and preconceptions.
But, as Karickhoff noted, civility in the United States isn’t a new topic.
In 1968, public tensions reached a high point after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Soon thereafter, President Richard Nixon was elected with only 40 percent of the public vote, and his eventual impeachment brought on further hostilities in public discourse.
“We don’t have to go back very far, and political discourse was much worse than it is today,” said Karickhoff.
But, Karickhoff indicated there’s a silver lining to referencing the past.
“The point John Meacham was making, and the point I’m making to you, is we live in a very resilient republic,” said Karickhoff. “As bad as it is today, it’s probably not as bad as it was in the past ... We have a pretty contentious history. But today I think we could all agree, by the show of hands, that civil discourse is important. I can tell you in the General Assembly, at national conventions, at state legislatures, it’s a topic discussed. We want to see the political climate change. We want to have civil discourse.”