Personal attacks against elected officials and staff — delivered in the council chambers, at city hall or online — have grown more common. Public servants, facing hostility directed at themselves or even their families, have grown less willing to serve their communities.
In his introduction, NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony spoke of conflict as an inevitable part of government work, but one which has taken a destructive turn.
“While disagreement and debate are a healthy part of a functioning democracy, civil discourse in America has been increasingly in decline — we see it in the media and more frequently, we’re seeing it more in our own communities,” he wrote.
The report traces these causes of incivility:
- Polarization – Nationally, the divide between conservatives and liberals has grown wider and deeper, with more people willing to resort to violence to advance political goals.
- Pushback against inclusive political participation – The report describes this as a response to the growing diversification of those participating in the political sphere, whether it’s in terms of religion, gender, race, ethnicity or sexual identity.
- Online spread of misinformation and disinformation – All falsehoods are misinformation, and “disinformation” are the falsehoods spread by those who intend to deceive others. As the report notes, social media has not just diversified the viewpoints that can easily be heard, it has also provided a powerful way for harmful messages and ideologies to spread, and for media consumers to reinforce their existing biases.
- The report identifies actions that cities can take:
- Securing physical safety – This can be developing security plans and providing de-escalation training.
- Promoting mental health – This can be connecting staff and officials with mental health resources, and establishing a trauma management strategy.
- Improving civil discourse – Work to get leaders to serve as models of good discourse and community engagement; and create codes of conduct and social media guidelines.