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Will the Civil Majority Please Stand Up?

With deepening political polarization constantly being amplified by social and partisan media, it is little wonder that Americans are at each others' throats. But just because the loudest voices have decided to embrace scorched-earth rhetoric doesn't mean that everyone else should also surrender their civility.

STANFORD – Recession fears are gripping Europe and spreading globally. Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union now seems imminent, and Italy’s government has just imploded. The Argentine peso is collapsing, owing to expectations that President Mauricio Macri’s administration will soon be succeeded by another Peronist government. The bombing of a wedding in Afghanistan augurs the return of escalating violence in that country. And fears of a Tiananmen-style crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong are rising.

Meanwhile, America has suffered through heat waves; disgusting revelations about a wealthy serial pedophile with ties to the rich, famous, and powerful; and four horrific mass shootings. Each of these incidents deserves thoughtful analysis. But in a 24/7 news cycle amplified by unfiltered social media, the immediate response has been dominated by an exchange of partisan recriminations. 

In the past, Americans generally viewed those with whom they disagreed as wrongheaded, insensitive, beholden to particular economic interests, or driven by different values or cultural experiences. But today, the impulse to gain attention on social media has produced a discourse of extreme defamation and scorched-earth tactics aimed at destroying one’s opponents.

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