Belmont students and faculty gathered in the Curb Event Center tonight to hear bestselling author and Humanities Symposium keynote speaker Stephen L. Carter talk about civility in modern society and politics.
Carter, the author of this year’s First Year Seminar common book, is a law professor at Yale University, columnist and twelve-time author.
Carter started out his talk using professional football as a microcosm for our current political situation, speaking about a play in which the referee called a pass fair even when the player knew it wasn’t. The player obviously did not say anything, and Carter pointed out that to most people, it would have been strange if he had.
“A rooting interest makes us think we can just let things go,” Carter said.
He then connected this point to negative advertisements typical found during an election year. Although most people claim to not like negative ads, he said they let it go as long as the politician is on their side of the debate.
Carter chastised this behavior and called citizens change their vote if they dislike how a campaign is run.
“Victory is not a virtue,” he said twice during his speech.
He argued that in politics, the ends don’t justify the means. No matter how important an issue is to citizens, they must be respectful to each other and expect the same of their candidates. Carter argued politics needed to be complex enough to allow voters to change their minds about the other candidates. At the end of his speech, he presented three ideas that he believes would make politics more civil – repealing the 17th Amendment that allows voters to elect U.S. Senators, giving candidates enough time to think and answer in debates, and ridding the American election system of negative campaign ads.
The author finished his lecture by challenging members of the audience to value complexity over simplicity and to read something challenging in the next week.
“Civility begins with the small, not the large,” he said.