There are predictions that the first 2016 presidential debate, airing on September 26 live from Hofstra University, will be one of the most-watched TV programs in television history. It’s almost certainly not because Americans want the details of Hillary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s fiscal, military or social policies. The true reason for the steroidal level of interest is our fascination with and desire to see potential fireworks between the two candidates. Will Trump resort to the nastiness he’s directed toward his opponents in past debates? Will Hillary try to take the high road or rather test Trump’s thin skin by insulting him? Will either say something that’ll significantly damage their campaign? And who will “win” the first debate?
In public relations we know that respect for our colleagues and our audiences are essential to successful communication. On his HBO show Real Time, comedian/political observer Bill Maher lamented the lack of respect among those in the political world. “Trump and Hillary are the first two candidates in memory NOT to call and congratulate each other when they won their respective races,” Maher noted. He pointed out that until recently, members of Congress would address each other as “my friend.” They showed mutual respect for their colleagues and opponents despite their political differences.
“If you wanna know why our country is so tense and our government doesn’t work, it’s because society functions on some basic rules of conduct and they’re all going away,” Maher said. “The infectious disease that’s threatening our election isn’t pneumonia–it’s a total lack of class.”
Skillful public relations professionals understand that good communication is knowing what to say and how to say it. Courtesy and tradition have societal and practical impact. Here’s a personal example: When a student only refers to me as “Morosoff” when addressing me, it sounds disrespectful. The convention of speaking a title before a name (Professor, Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.) is a courtesy that’s, sadly, disappearing.
“Civility is nearly dead in this country and we need to return to some basic level of bipartisan decency and respect for our opponents,” Maher lectured. Your thoughts?