September 17, 2020
Political correctness, Congressional stalemates and fake news are concepts that have permeated political discourse in the last two years, seemingly changing the landscape of American politics. (From left) Politico reporter Carla Marinucci, Norman Lear Center Director Martin Kaplan and Annenberg professor Karen North spoke at a panel moderated by Annenberg professor Laura Davis. Emily Smith | Daily TrojanOn Wednesday, more than 50 students, faculty and community members gathered to discuss these changes in American politics in “The Un-Civil War,” an all-day conference hosted by the USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. Billed as an opportunity to “advance a bipartisan conversation about civil discourse in modern American politics,” the event consisted of four 90-minute panel discussions featuring three to four experts at a time in fields of politics, sociology, technology and journalism. By bringing together points of view from multiple fields and perspectives on the political spectrum, the event aimed to start a conversation about American civil discourse and offer examples of how to move forward while agreeing to disagree. “I hope that today we can shed some light on the un-civil war that too often stains our politics today,” Unruh Institute Director Robert Shrum said in his opening remarks.He noted that the conference fell on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, and lauded King’s actions as a remarkable example of the power of civility in the political sphere. The four panels tackled the history of political civility, the modern rise of “alternative facts” and the impact of technology and the impact of media on the American political landscape. Though panelists approached these issues from different angles, many agreed that the era of President Donald Trump is unlike any other. “We shouldn’t get too overly hysterical about what’s happening today, however, in our lifetime … I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like we’re seeing today,” said Mickey Kantor, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and campaign chair of the 1992 Clinton-Gore presidential ticket. “I think it follows eight years of grace and dignity in the White House … and now it’s almost like they threw cold water in your face at about three in the morning, when you’re faced with what we’re seeing in today’s rhetoric.” Many panelists touched on the impact of technology and the internet on political discourse. “The thing that has struck me the most … in what’s taking place in politics today, has been how detached we have become from fact,” USC professor Margaret Gatz said. She then presented data on the cognitive distortions and filter bubbles that can lead people to believe falsehoods. USC professor Peter Mancall said that the modern political discord could be a step toward progress. According to Mancall, there has been a “vast expansion of people in the political discussion” in the past centuries.“That has led to all sorts of uncomfortable moments, but in some ways … I sort of celebrate the fact that there are more people involved in the discussion than there ever were before,” Mancall said.At the end of the panel, audience members eagerly questioned the panelists, preparing themselves to take the lessons learned at the conference into the larger world. “It’s great that Unruh Institute puts together these events where you can talk about real time issues outside of the classroom with professionals of the field,” said Melanie Franceschini, a senior majoring in political science.