6

Eliminating Political Vitriol Online

As we prepare for the critical November elections, I find myself increasingly frustrated whenever I enter my social networking venues online. A trip to Facebook or Twitter these days often feels like a running of the gauntlet as I dodge nasty comments, unkind graphics, and attack oriented posts on both ends of the political spectrum.

I don’t think I’m alone in my frustration. A recent poll conducted by The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and the Knights of Columbus found that the majority of survey respondents agree with me on the negative tenor of the discourse:

  • 74% think the tone of political campaigns has grown more negative than past election years
  • About two-thirds believe the candidates are spending more time attacking one another than addressing the issues
  • 56%, believe political campaigns in our country lack civility and respect

I do consider it a tremendous blessing that our social networking venues have given the average citizen a platform to address what matters most in our lives, and to discuss passionately our beliefs with our friends and connections. But I fear many of us have slipped into the trap of following the examples of the candidates themselves, by spending more time in attack mode that in meaningful conversations about the issues at hand.

Why does this matter? Isn’t it our right as Americans to employ our rights to freedom of speech to say what we feel? Yes, certainly. And yet, I’m also cognizant that my presence — and yours — in venues like Facebook and Twitter is a component of the New Evangelization. When my non-Catholic friends (for whom I am perhaps the only Catholic they will ever know) see me launch into a diatribe about Candidate X, they form a perception not only about me and my political beliefs, but about my Church as well. In my passion for my position, I may unwittingly act in a fashion that lacks the charity and diligence to which I am called.

As we lead up to this critical election in November, I am trying to train myself to pray prior to posting. I find myself frequently reading a post or tweet a few times prior to hitting “enter” and asking myself if the comment I am about to make adds anything uplifting and meaningful to the conversation. If my answer is “no”, I must hit “delete” rather than “enter”. This morning, I signed the Civility in America petition, which states:

We, the undersigned citizens of the United States of America, respectfully request that candidates, the media and other advocates and commentators involved in the public policy arena employ a more civil tone in public discourse on political and social issues, focusing on policies rather than on individual personalities. For our part, we pledge to make these principles our own.

Moving toward the election, I’ll be holding myself to the following standards and preparations:

  • Gathering information: Focusing on issues and facts, not attacks, and making an effort to educate my voting-age children on their right and duty to vote
  • Forming my conscience in prayer
  • Communicating charitably with others about the issues that matter most
  • Avoiding personal attacks and those who engage in them
  • Voting

We’re fortunate that there are some terrific online resources to guide us in our preparations to vote. I recommend a visit to the following:

I’ll leave you with a prayer I’ve been reflecting with for the past few weeks, obtained from the USCCB’s Prayer and Worship Resources:

Lord God, as the election approaches,
we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our city/state/country,
and how the Gospel compels us to respond as faithful citizens in our community.
We ask for eyes that are free from blindness
so that we might see each other as brothers and sisters,
one and equal in dignity,
especially those who are victims of abuse and violence, deceit and poverty.
We ask for ears that will hear the cries of children unborn and those abandoned,
Men and women oppressed because of race or creed, religion or gender.
We ask for minds and hearts that are open to hearing the voice of leaders who will bring us closer to your Kingdom.

We pray for discernment
so that we may choose leaders who hear your Word,
live your love,
and keep in the ways of your truth
as they follow in the steps of Jesus and his Apostles
and guide us to your Kingdom of justice and peace.

We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I’d love to hear from our readers on this topic. Do you feel that political vitriol is increasingly present in this election cycle, and if so does it matter? Are you of the opinion that “anything goes” in supporting and advocating for the important issues that matter most? Is there any hope for true “civility” in the political process?


Lisa Hendey, Catholic wife and mom, is the founder and webmaster of www.CatholicMom.com and the author of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul and The Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and hosts the Catholic Moments Podcast. Visit her at LisaHendey.com.


  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    This is a fantastic article and I wish to support
    it fully.

    The attacks on candidates for the election here seem to go beyond what one would
    expect from those whose religion should be noted for charity. ” I give you a
    new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also
    should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
    if you have love for one another.”(NRSV John 13:34,35).

    I am very pro-America and pro-Church, yet CL seems to
    be, at times, anti-America and Anti-Church.
    The President of the US and leader of the free world is seen, apparently by some, as a Muslim abortionist. Catholic politicians are mostly seen as
    pro-Choice and anti-Church.

    Both VP candidates are Catholics, most of the Supreme
    Court judges are also and very many of the
    most senior politicians are Catholics. In 1776 1% of Americans were Catholics
    now 27% are (over 68 million). 25 Senators and 134 (out of 435) Representatives are also Catholic, including
    John Boehner (please look at http://www.famouswhy.com/List/c/American_Roman_Catholic_politicians/).

    Reading CL it seems the loyalty and understanding of the
    faith is lacking among Catholic bishops, and
    their views on Social Justice or abortion are questioned. A Protestant view seems to predominate where individual
    conscience decides on what views of the
    USCCB are to be accepted.

    As well as the bishops Catholic higher education is
    attacked in CL, as seen by Notre Dame’s relationship with President Obama. Recently in Dublin NDU played Navy in football and before the match hundreds of NDU supporters attended Mass.

    Catholic hospitals and doctors in the US are seen (apparently) in
    CL as murders, killing babies rather than saving lives.

    My experience is different. Yesterday was my 45
    wedding anniversary and I spend a three year honey-moon in the US; maybe being
    young and in love made be see the US through rose tinted glasses, but I saw and
    still see the US as the most Catholic
    country on earth, and our hope for the future.
    I would not be here otherwise.

    I admit Cardinal
    Dolan wrote a savage report on the state of Irish Catholicism and our archbishops. But the new Papal Nuncio, the American Archbishop Charles Brown is positive
    about the re-evangelization of Ireland (http://lxoa.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/papal-nuncio-archbishop-brown-on-the-future-of-the-church-in-ireland/)

    The leading lay-man in the Church is an American, Carl Anderson, and many
    of the leading clerics are American.

    Finally let me let you know about two incidences that
    have shown me American’s love of life, and to the full.

    In our National Children’s Hospital there is a
    football Jersey, with the number 23 presented to it by the NYPD’s Gaelic
    Football Club, since this jersey was withdrawn due to the 23 members of the
    NYPD’s members who died in 9/11 to save lives.

    The wife of my brother-in-law who worked
    in the Sloan-Kettering hospital (http://www.mskcc.org/pediatrics) told me of a wealthy American who asked a
    nurse working there in the ICU for new-born babies how see could continue
    working surrounded by such sick babies, She said that she looked at the research
    facilities and gained hope and encouragement.
    This led a a million dollar donation for curing children’s cancers.

    Therefore, please do not knock the Church or Catholics
    in America.

    • Noel, you and I have read all the same articles over the same period of time and reached completely different conclusions. I find CL to be refreshing, orthodox, and thoroughly Catholic. I get a Catholic perspective on everything from life issues to the economy to the state of the Church.

      I think I understand where you’re coming from on, for example, the situation with Catholic hospitals advising life-destroying procedures for their patients. But to point out problems and warn people is not at all the same as calling Catholic hospitals murderers. That article did a valuable service alerting people to be on their guard anywhere in the health care system, even in a Catholic hospital. Shouldn’t people have access to that kind of information?

      To be a Catholic, especially in our de-Christianized world, requires a complete commitment of heart and mind. Being Catholic is an identity because our Baptism and Confirmation have spiritually sealed us into the Trinity. Not every Catholic lives that way – and I think that is the root of the problems you are surfacing. For those of us who do, CL is a safe harbor where we can pull in to learn how to love better.

  • An easy way to get insulted is to pick a media website and post a strong opinion about almost anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s backed by facts or not – even facts are relative these days. And if you think your opponents will take the time to truly try and understand what you’re saying, you’re just kidding yourself. I rarely post anywhere except on CL anymore, and if I do, I never go back to check other people’s comments about my post. I guess I have a thin hide and I’m just not cut out for online kerfuffles.

    • Noel Fitzpatrick

      PH
      you wrote ” I guess I have a thin hide and I’m just not cut out for online kerfuffles.”

      I hope I have never been guilty of online kerfuffles. I would not like to upset anyone here.

  • Cheryl Dickow

    Lisa,

    This article brings up excellent points and yet when I read your list and you say you will “Form your conscience in prayer” I feel that this is where we have many of our divisions among Catholics.

    One may form her conscience in prayer and determine that it is important to elect a candidate whose platform supports abortion because that candidate seems outwardly concerned with, let’s say, feeding the poor. Another person can form her conscience in prayer and determine that it really is important for young persons to have access to birth control.

    You see, forming a conscience in prayer, while necessary, cannot happen in a vacuum. Church teachings are often ignored because we feel we are able to come to conclusions correctly, follow our heart etc. The fact is, while the current passions are running extremely high and the vitriol is truly unacceptable, we are now faced with a very serious point in our nation’s history. I don’t believe this is an overstatement. Too much has been brought into our lives that is the very opposite of what we are as Catholics (HHS mandate etc.).

    I believe the first and most important step a Catholic has to take is to return to obedience to Mother Church. Plain and simple, abortion is called “intrinsically evil” and isn’t a negotiable.

    As we know, more than half of Catholics will ignore this teaching when casting their vote and I have to respectfully wonder if they, too, formed their conscience in prayer.

  • goral

    Your comment, Mrs. Dickow, brings up excellent points. We usually form our consciences to suit us. Prayer could be used as another justification towards that end. I heard a statement today on our local Catholic station –
    Stop asking God to bless your cause; join His cause, it’s already blessed.
    We know what His cause is. We have the Holy Spirit, we have Mother Church and we have our parents. All of them are better authorities over our consciences than our own ego.

    On the subject of vitriol, every time we get to this point of an election cycle we face the same accusers. We’re attacking our president, our bishops, our fine institutions. We even dare to “attack” our attackers.
    Why, the other day, Mittens said that both he and prez. Obama want to help the poor. Mr. Romney, get your campaign in the attack mode, on issues, of course.
    No, the president doesn’t want to help the poor.
    He took their jobs away and gave them food stamps.
    He weakens the family with his anti-family legislation. A broken family is a poverty factory.
    He has no qualms about closing Catholic hospitals – quintessential servants to the poor with God’s blessing.

    There were no objections to the cry, “Bush lies and people die!”
    Well, Obama lied and continues to lie about the terrorist attack that butchered our ambassador and other citizens. He shirked his duty in protecting them.
    We can’t talk about issues because the media won’t cover them.
    They lead off nightly news with how many points Romney is down in the polls.
    Their own polls are news. No wonder there is vitriol. Something has to fill the 24/7 news cycle. because as I stated, the media will not cover issues.