US Representatives Upton and Dingell call for civility in political discourse

KALAMAZOO, MI — A day before the Aug. 2 primary election, two U.S. representatives from opposing parties stopped by Western Michigan University to talk about civility and bipartisanship in modern politics.

The event was organized by the university as part of the WMU”We Speak: Civil Discourse Initiativewhich emphasizes the importance of engaging constructively with people who have different points of view. WMU President Edward Montgomery moderated the event.

Appearing on the panel with Montgomery were U.S. Representatives Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, both members of the bipartisan Congress Problem Solving Caucus.

The two lawmakers spoke about their longtime friendship outside the political arena, death threats from angry voters, the change in the way media is digested in the era of the 24-hour news cycle/ 24/7 and the danger of politics getting in the way of progress and relationships at a time when vitriol and partisan politics reign supreme.

This discourse needs to start at the community level, Dingell said.

“You can’t just look at us and tell us we need to talk to each other,” she said. “Every American should care about their democracy. The Congress is a representative body. So that represents the population of what you see.

“See how easy it is to bully people online. See what happens to our young children in schools. And our malls, our movie theaters, where people come in with assault weapons. We all have a responsibility to treat each other with respect, to demand civility, to keep your voice down.

Upton, who is in his last term before retiring, agreed. He spoke about the importance of the Problem Solver Caucus in Congress and how it can serve as an example for those discussing differences and similarities.

“Relationships are really important; get to know people,” he said. “Our Problem Solving Caucus, 60 members, you can bring a staff member and nothing has ever leaked. You trust each other. You sit next to Republicans and Democrats. They know you’re not going to fight them.

“We have a commitment to civility. We get to know their families, their spouses, and you get to know some of that character that’s there.

Within that commitment, there’s no shouting against each other, Upton said.

There is also no campaigning allowed against other caucus members, which leads to trust, Dingell said.

“We eat meals together, walk together to vote, sit on the floor together,” Upton said. “When you have such a tight margin between the Rs and Ds, the Problem Solvers Caucus, if they can stay aligned, can really make a difference.”

There is significance in that, the two politicians agreed, because it is needed at a time when many bills – like the recent “toxic burns” bill to help veterans – die when the parties refused to work together.

John Clark, chair of WMU’s political science department, asked the two representatives what citizens could do differently to help, because it is citizens who motivate their elected officials.

“Before, there were over 60 members of the House of Representatives who were interested in solving problems and now it seems that many members (of Congress) are responding to prompts that basically say that the biggest problem is that there are too many people from the other party here, and so it’s less about fixing public policy or using public policy to solve problems and more about the next election and how one side can l trump the other in the next election,” Clark said.

Upton pointed to large constituency sizes, the need for campaign finance reform and low voter turnouts like on Tuesdays, where he suggested no more than 15% of registered voters are likely to vote.

“I would say it’s not just the money or the party, but everyone’s scared of Donald Trump,” Dingell added.

Dingell said infighting and the search for approval in both parties often lead to candidates from the two extreme fringes being elected at the expense of more moderate candidates.

“The silent majority must not be silent and must hold their elected representatives to account,” she said. “Both parties allow some people to dominate who shouldn’t be dominating.”

Asked by Montgomery how best to be respectful when there is a disagreement, Upton said it starts with honesty.

“I think you just have to be honest from the start,” he said. “If you don’t agree on something, then you let it be known. You can have a friendly and courteous debate for sure and move on.

“I think it’s the game that drives people crazy.”

Dingell agreed, saying that she and Upton are both solution-oriented people who know the issues they will agree on.

“One of the things that is happening in this country that I think is a danger to all of us is that there are people who are deliberately trying to undermine the credibility and the trust of the people in the institutions. “, she said. “They are deliberately trying to make people distrust the media and when you don’t have trust and your institutions have no credibility, your democracy is in real danger.”

Dingell also pointed to the 24/7 cycle as driving part of this split.

“The media has changed,” she said. “Before, there were three networks and no one thought their network was politically biased, like you think Fox News is conservative and say CNN and MSNBC are too left-wing. But we have stopped investing in small local newspapers, they don’t have the resources or the money to cover these local issues to empower people.

Upton also took issue with the state of the media today.

“I blame the media for a lot of what we have today just because I don’t see that they’re nearly as responsible for what’s going on as they once were,” Upton said. “Now you have your news 24/7 and people are drawn to the perspective they want to have.”

As a result, he said, misinformation can spread and quickly go viral.

“Social media, which was supposed to be the best thing since sliced ​​bread, has become such a source of harm,” Dingell said. “I think it pits people against each other. There are so many false facts.

Dingell said a big danger is that there are many media sites that have sprung up that play up the pros of specific candidates and issues, but don’t do the job of holding those candidates and others accountable.

The greatest danger, she said, is people’s inability to find common ground despite differences of opinion.

“I just believe we’re Americans first and then Democrats and Republicans,” Dingell said. “You have to try to bring people together and find common ground. If you attacked someone viscerally, if you insulted their integrity, you made name-calling or intimidation, it is very difficult to trust after that.

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