Newsweek editor Jon Meacham visited St. Thomas Tuesday night to discuss civil discourse in the first installment of the Public Discourse Lecture Series, sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences.
Meacham’s speech, “Conflict and Civility in the Age of Obama,” addressed the lack of civility in American politics and gave suggestions to improve public discourse.
“Civility is the product of the culture of those who agree that we as a nation should love order, love justice and love fair play,” Meacham said. “While we fight over details, we remember that love is stronger than hate and union is ultimately better than division.”
A university faculty member said the total attendance was around 600 people. While many students were offered extra credit in class to attend the discussion, junior Megan Erb said she saw the benefit in the new lecture series.
“In order to achieve polite civil discourse, we need to return to an age of saying please and thank you and really listening to somebody else,” Erb said. “These lectures will make it easier for students to understand and appreciate civility.”
Meacham’s speech had a message of embracing everyone’s first amendment rights, which hit home with senior Allison Janney.
“It’s just a matter of sifting through the extreme right and left ends of the spectrum that tend to shout the loudest, which causes people in the middle to be drowned out,” Janney said. “It’s a lot easier to focus on what you already agree with, so I think it’s a good idea to listen to what the other sides have to say.”
Meacham said citizens should meet in the middle.
“A civil society is one in which members of the [political] body acknowledge the roles of compromise in the daily, down-to-earth practice of getting along,” he said.
Junior Tyler Petersen said he thinks civility is possible.
“I think it’ll take a lot of work and a lot of people being uncomfortable,” he said. “When we’re civil to each other, we have to compromise, and people generally don’t like to do that.”
Meacham said the golden rule is the first step toward civil discourse.
“To do onto others as you would have them do onto you is, I would argue, the hardest and most complicated thing in the world,” he said. “But in the end, I don’t see any other answer.”
Zach Pagano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.