Americans who kindly disagree

One measure of the health of American democracy is The Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index. Each year, it counts the number of bills in Congress sponsored by lawmakers from both parties. The most recent survey shows a modest gain last year. Such numerical tracking, however, does not capture something else: the tone of disagreement in dealing with big issues.

Outside Washington, that tone is often less strident, even respectful. “We can disagree and stand firm for our beliefs and principles, but we should never forget the dignity of the other human being,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, said last year. “Civility is not a weakness.”

That conviction is the basis of an initiative for civic renewal by the National Governors Association called Disagree Better. It seeks to restore an ideal that cordial disagreement is a source of unity rather than of division.

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