“Are you frustrated by the hate and negativity? You’re not alone. That’s why we developed The Dignity Index, an eight-point scale that scores speech on its power to unite or divide.”
We have a problem. In the past five years, threats against members of Congress have increased ten times. According to Rachel Kleinfeld, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, we have entered a state of stochastic terrorism, meaning there is so much hate and fear that we have seen violent attacks on targets of that hatred, like the assault on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband.
As abhorrent as that seems, the truth is our political system rewards going on the attack. For example, according to a New York Times analysis of campaign finance records, during Trump’s first impeachment hearing in1929, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) exchanged her respectful criticism of Trump for theatrics, interruptions and deliberately breaking the rules. As a result, she raised more in one week on the small-donor platform WinRed than she had in the rest of her congressional career, which began in 2014.
Can anything be done to change this? Some people think so. The latest standard-bearer for civil political discourse is Tami Pyfer, a former special education teacher, high-level Republican appointee and member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As the Utah governor’s education policy adviser during COVID, she became so discouraged at all the negativity that she resigned to join Unite, a national nonprofit organization focused on healing America’s divides.
United has developed The Dignity Index as a way to score the meanness or civility of politicians’ words in hopes of nudging them towards decency and away from venom. The eight-point scale ranges from Level one: escalates from violent words to violent actions, to Level eight: I can see myself as part of every group, I refuse to hate anyone, and I offer dignity to everyone. The Index has been tested in Utah, a state known for its relative decency, and it has gotten a lot of attention.
But The Dignity Index is far from perfect. For example, it can’t judge factual accuracy. And it doesn’t consider actions. But so far it is a promising start.
If you agree that more dignity is needed in the political system, you can access The Dignity Index website by following the link in the quote that opened this piece. And for the complete story, see “One Woman Is Holding Politicians Accountable for Nasty Speech. It’s Changing Politics” by Amanda Ripley (https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2023/01/20/tami-pyfer-dignify-politics-00078409?).