EDITORIAL: Political incivility serves no purpose but to divide


Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, openly heckled President Joe Biden during his Feb. 7 State of the Union Address.

Ideological and political divides have drastically increased in recent years, and it is growing more and more difficult for Americans to reach a common ground both in the legislature and at the dinner table. This polarization has led to increased political incivility, calling into question the people Americans are choosing to elect into political office and shining a light on the devolution of humanity’s ability to compromise.

Political party affiliations and ideologies are becoming more and more boxed in. If a person is affiliated with the Democratic Party, they are assumed and expected to hold more liberal beliefs, as a Republican is associated with having a conservative ideology. 

“There are now only about two dozen moderate Democrats and Republicans left on Capitol Hill, versus more than 160 in 1971-72,” stated a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. According to the study, the divide between the average ideology of members of Congress has expanded with both parties moving further away from what are considered centrist ideals. However, Congressional Republicans have trended further to the right than Democrats have to the left.

The greater shift in Republican ideology towards conservatism is, in part, due to the influence that former president Donald Trump has had on the GOP and his followers since 2016. While his popularity within the party is dwindling today, he will forever be known for his aggressive bullying tactics and tendency to pit his audience against prominent Democrats and the left. His behavior has trickled down and empowered other Republicans to shamelessly lie and conduct themselves with a level of incivility that used to be considered unbetting a member of Congress.

One such liar in political office is Rep. George Santos (R-NY), who has recently been under fire for falsifying the majority of his resume, including claiming to be the star player of the Baruch College volleyball team – a college he did not attend – and that his mother passed away from complications related to 9/11. Why would he lie about something like that?

Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), a more moderate Republican known for being the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial in 2020, denounced Santos on the House floor, stating that Santos did not belong there. Romney told reporters, “He says he embellished his record…embellishing is saying you got an A when you got an A minus. Lying is when you say you graduated from a college you didn’t even attend.”

The former president also enabled further displays of inappropriate behavior from some of today’s Congresspersons and caused political incivility to invade legislative and other political processes. Political incivility, as defined by researchers Sara Bentivegna PhD. and Rossella Rega PhD. from the Sapienza University of Rome, is “a lack of respect for the shared principles and democratic traditions that govern the collectivity.”

A prime example of polarization and political incivility impacting legislative function occurred as the House was voting for a new Speaker of the House. It took 15 rounds of voting to finally confirm Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Recognizing how unusual this occurrence is, senior and Olympic Heights Debate Captain Sami Levick remarked, “It took 15 seconds to vote for a Presiding Officer in my Student Congress chamber in Debate and 15 ballots to vote for a Speaker of the House.”

For one, a small group of stubborn, far-right Republicans that notably included Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Rep. Lauren Boebert forced the voting process to drag on for multiple days. They voted “present” for several rounds, keeping McCarthy from receiving the majority vote necessary to call the vote in his favor. In one instance, Gaetz voted for Trump, rubbing several of his Republican colleagues in the House and many Americans watching at home the wrong way.

Gaetz and Boebert tauntingly withholding votes from McCarthy, even when holding out on the fewer than six votes needed by McCarthy to win grew arbitrary, was a demonstration of defiance and disrespect for their own party members and the United States Congress itself. It can serve as an indicator to the American people that the 118th Congress may not measure up to previous assemblies in terms of being quick and efficient in action.

A more blatant display of uncivilized behavior on the House floor was an occurrence captured on C-SPAN’s cameras during the Speaker voting. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) lunged toward Rep. Gaetz through a small cluster of Republican Congresspersons to confront him for his actions during the voting. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) was seen grabbing Rogers by the face and covering his mouth, as he pulled Rogers away from Gaetz.

This incident showed Americans that elected officials are people too, only they may not always be the best people to have in positions of such power. Politicians have lost their respect and care for having proper decorum, which definitely does not involve grabbing a coworker by the face to physically restrain them from speaking to another. C-SPAN’s access to filming in the chamber during this time is a reminder for Americans to take a closer look at who they have elected.

“Witnessing how our representatives behave in Congress allows us to better hold them accountable at election time,” explained OH AP Government and Politics teacher Ms. Chelsea Fink. “The problem will be, how many people were actually watching, and how many of those that were will take action if they didn’t like what they saw?”

The events of the 118th Congress’ first few weeks have proven to be hectic. The increased partisan divide in Congress and across the United States has clearly incited hatred between opposing parties; however, it seems the fractured Republican Party is also experiencing some inter-party polarization that has made them an embarrassment to democracy and its values.

According to The New York Times, “Polarization has become a force that feeds on itself, gaining strength from the hostility it generates, finding sustenance on both the left and the right.” This means that the blame for the political divide is not solely rested on Republicans, as Democrats have just as much responsibility to open up their minds to compromise and reconciliation. 

However, when Republicans such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Rep. Andy Ogles (R-TN) openly and defiantly heckled President Joe Biden during his Feb. 7 State of the Union Address to the point that House Speaker McCarthy felt compelled to shush them, it most likely made many Democrats less inclined to try to find common ground with those they feel disgrace their office through their acts of political theater.

Nevertheless, Biden declared his unity agenda to Congress in his annual State of the Union address, consisting of his intentions to improve mental health, support veterans, beat the opioid crisis, and eradicate cancer. He hopes these initiatives will act as universal goals to unite left and right.

“The people sent us a clear message,” declared Biden in his address. “Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere.”