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Is the spirit of civility dying in America? Many people think so. They say that our public discourse has become intemperate and mean; that tolerance and generosity are now rare in political debate; that the process of lawmaking is increasingly dominated by a ruthless partisanship whose expressions are barely distinguishable from physical violence; that candidates today ignore their opponents' ideas and attack their personalities instead, with ad hominem arguments of the cruelest and least charitable kind; that our whole public life has become degraded and harsh. The symptoms of this, they say, are visible wherever we look: in the venomous provocations of radio talk show hosts; in the lewd curiosities of the tabloid press; in the personal assaults that today pass for campaign advertising; in the sarcasm and anger of political argument generally. Even the President (who is of course hardly a disinterested party) has complained about the growing incivility of American politics, and blamed the increasing violence of our words for the real acts of terror which, he says, our discourse anticipates and produces.

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