President Donald Trump's comments last week praising Congressman Greg Gianforte for body-slamming a reporter in 2017 is just the most recent example of the divisive behavior that has escalated over the past two years.

Try to bring up politics in casual conversation, and odds are you'll be quickly rebuffed. And it's no wonder why: it appears that we as a society are more divided than ever, that if there is a common ground, we've been unable to find it over the past decade.

But refusing to participate in political dialogue doesn't make issues our political system needs to be solving (as well as the ones it's creating) simply go away. It simply allows those on the fringes with megaphones to continue to appear more important than they are. Whenever we see things that offend us, demonstrations of truly ugly behavior, it's a simple jump to believe our ability as a society to participate in civil, meaningful discourse has completely eroded.

Even locally, conversations about the direction our city should move and what we should encourage or disincentivize turn acrimonious quickly, it appears.

That may be the case. Political discourse may be more negative, more unethical, than it's ever been. So we need to select leaders who commit to engaging both their political opponents and their constituents on the basis of respect, with an interest in bipartisanship, in getting things done.

It also means we need to commit to having conversations with people who disagree with us. Not just shouting matches but actual conversations where people are able to share differing viewpoints, facts and analysis, with a real potential for consensus.

Name calling is easy. Stereotyping is simple. Actually engaging with someone who isn't just an echo chamber for our own beliefs and opinions? That takes effort.

In order for civility to creep back into our modern political system, however, we have to be willing to agree to some basic ground rules when it comes to what is and isn't acceptable.

Encouraging politicians body-slamming journalists? Not acceptable. We're better than that as Americans ... at least, we were at one point. Let's hope we can get there again.

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