Editorials, Opinion

Bringing civility back to political discourse

We have officially entered 2024 election season (even though it feels like the 2022 election season never ended) — and the rhetoric from politicians and pundits is already heated. Unfortunately, it will only get worse.

Mudslinging has long been a feature of politics, with verbal and written attacks on everything from an opponent’s policies to their appearance. Sadly, research has shown that potential voters are more engaged by “dirty” fights, such as negative advertising and personal attacks during debates, than by positive promotions.

However, anyone would be hard pressed to deny that politics has gotten a lot nastier in the last decade. It’s not just saying mean things about opponents or people they don’t like; it has evolved to subtle (and not-so-subtle) threats and violent imagery. Take, for example, the Missouri Republican Senate candidate who ran a campaign ad last election of himself toting a shotgun and saying, “We’re going RINO hunting … Get a RINO hunting permit” — encouraging violence against those he deemed “Republicans in Name Only.”

Or, more locally, consider the photo shared by Derrick Evans, the former West Virginia delegate and convicted Jan. 6 rioter, of figurines of top national Democrats — including President Joe Biden and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi — hanging from a Christmas tree’s branches by nooses around their necks.

We understand that politics rarely bring out the best in any of us. And it’s fine to be frustrated or straight-up infuriated by what a politician says or does. But threats of or calls for violence — even ones as subtly implied as figurines hanging from nooses — is not acceptable. We cannot normalize such messaging, whether it comes from campaigns, politicians or even everyday people. Politics has rarely been a picture of decorum, but some political rhetoric has gone too far.

In our own efforts to bring civility back to political discourse, we’re setting a few ground rules for politics-related letters to the editor.

  • No ad-hominem attacks: Criticize ideas or actions, not people. This applies to politicians, elected or appointed officials, candidates for office and other letter writers. Keep criticisms directed at actions, words or policies instead of saying something negative about the person or calling them names. Criticisms of public figures get a little more leeway, but attacks on private individuals — such as other letter writers — will not be tolerated.
  • Candidates cannot promote themselves with letters or guest essays.
  • If we know that something is false, we will not publish it. You may be asked to rewrite your letter to exclude the inaccurate information or asked to provide your sources if we are not able to verify something in your letter.
  • We are not obligated to publish everything we receive. Declining to publish a letter is not a violation of First Amendment rights, as we are not a government entity.
  • Follow the usual guidelines, and please note that we stop running political letters about 10 days before the election.