The fight for civil debate | American Public Square

In today’s divisive political climate, it’s often hard to have a discussion about our most important national issues with someone of a different party. Whatever the topic may be, almost everything these days is partisan –  polarized on either side with a set of beliefs that refuse to be swayed.

The recent government shutdown and potential for another on Feb. 8 if an agreement is not made, gives the impression that political infighting is the hallmark of our time.

The disputes do not stay in congress however, scholars and activists, teachers and everyday citizens, all have a hard time finding consensus with the opposite side. This has led to a breakdown of civility, respect and lack of decency in debate.

American Public Square, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, founded by UMKC distinguished professor, Allan Katz, seeks to rectify this problem. Through the events hosted by American Public Square, civil and respectful conversation is achieved.

Panelists and a moderator speak on national issues that affect every American, answering questions from the audience and giving each side time to speak their mind.
Unique to these events are also the “civility bells” which are held by a few audience members, who ring them should the conversation ever get too heated. By encouraging the audience to ask questions and submit requests for fact checks on the panelists claims, American Public Square facilitates a community discussion that is hard to come by today.

The organization’s most recent panel was held on Feb. 1, focusing on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Although healthcare was ranked as the most important topic in the 2016 presidential election, many Americans still lack a number of facts about the Affordable Care Act, and the plans Republicans have been trying to pass to repeal or replace it.

After its implementation in 2014, the ACA helped greatly reduce the number of American’s without health insurance. What followed has been an intense debate about virtually every aspect of the bill, leading to miscommunication and repeated falsehoods.

Moderator, Brian Ellison, opened up the discussion by saying how surprised he was that after all this time, people still needed to discuss the ACA on a large scale because of how little factual information is missing from the conversation.

“1-in-3 Americans didn’t know that Obamacare has not been repealed,” he said, explaining that only the individual mandate penalty of the bill had been repealed. “People do care [about the ACA], and people don’t know as much as they should.”

The conversation that followed covered every part of the ACA from Medicaid, to price, to prescription drugs. Always keeping a civilized and structured format, this discussion welcomed many different ideas and viewpoints on a topic many believed had been talked to death already.

This not only showed how public goods can be accomplished when the debate is respectful, but also the importance of arming a democratic community with cold hard facts and the tools to listen to others.

Consensus and understanding can be reached with the determination of everyday Americans and though events like these with American Public Square.

The next panel will be held Feb. 15 and will focus on interfaith action in response to violence and injustice. To reserve your spot visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *