By Sardar Khan Niazi
Disagreement is inherent in democratic politics. However, people are becoming more and more concerned that politicians are no longer capable of expressing such disagreement in a civilized manner. Citizens often decry the breakdown of civility in politics.
Many fear that politics is becoming infested with shouting and name-calling and that insults are slowly but surely replacing arguments in political debates. This concern has been particularly great in our country. All lament the loss of respectful dialogue among politicians, and nobody has bothered to make politicians’ discourse civil.
Threatening rhetoric still seems to be on the rise, and many observers think the election of many politicians took incivility to a higher level. Pakistani politicians’ case indicates that there are indeed reasons to worry about rude behavior in politics. Not only does incivility appears to be growing, but it also creates political alienation and a negative image of politicians.
People trust politicians less and evaluate them less favorably if they behave in an impolite way. This indicates that citizens expect elected representatives to obey the same norms of politeness that regulate their own everyday interactions. They need to curb the growing resentment toward them because of the rise of impoliteness in their behavior.
Even partisans, who are often unwilling to admit mistakes by their party, evaluate their own side and leaders less favorably in the face of uncivil attacks on political rivals. It appears that norms of politeness are still very strong and that the dislike for incivility runs deep among citizens. However, if voters dislike uncivil politicians, why are politicians so uncivil?
Lack of respect is widespread among politicians and loathed intensely by ordinary people. After all, politicians are in the business of attracting voters, so it would seem more sensible for them to be respectful to their opponents. Of course, politicians might get caught in the heat of the moment from time to time and say things that they later regret, yet it seems strange that so many of them would continually undermine their chances with the voters.
Are politicians that ignorant about how citizens respond to their behavior? When people are exposed to political incivility, it often violates well-established face-to-face social norms for the polite expression of opposing views. As a result, a lack of respect in public discourse adversely affects trust in government. The deteriorating decorum of political debate and the pervasiveness of candidates’ use of uncivil forms of communication are worrisome. In particular, in social media, candidates alternate deliberate attacks against their opponents with detestable messages.
The use of bad-mannered discourse by political parties during the election campaign is neither a new strategy nor a unique feature. Political leaders use incivility for the purpose that it represents a strategic tool of communication to acquire more visibility in the public sphere.
Politicians’ use of forms of antagonistic communication in their online posts and the consequences of these forms on users is quite depressing. Political leaders resorting to incivility while involved in online discussion forums, dogmatic talks, and news commentary on electronic media affect users’ attitudes to the point of jeopardizing civil and informed discussion on the issues.
Incivility refers to intentional disrespectful criticism and a costless offense that shows a lack of respect toward others. Insulting attitude, shouting, sarcasm, or vulgarity is a threat to democratic pluralism through the violation of collective democratic traditions and norms.
Incivility has increased in current political debate both by the government and by the opposition. The tactics and strategies behind the use of this tool by political leaders seem inappropriate to gain public attention.
These present a challenge to constructive discussion and its democratic-deliberative foundations. Discourteous and intolerant discourse poses a threat to democratic values.