Eliminating Political Vitriol Online

Eliminating Political Vitriol Online

Eliminating Political Vitriol Online

As we prepare for the critical November elections, I find myself increasingly frustrated whenever I enter my social networking venues online. A trip to Facebook or Twitter these days often feels like a running of the gauntlet as I dodge nasty comments, unkind graphics, and attack oriented posts on both ends of the political spectrum.

I don’t think I’m alone in my frustration. A recent poll conducted by The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and the Knights of Columbus found that the majority of survey respondents agree with me on the negative tenor of the discourse:

  • 74% think the tone of political campaigns has grown more negative than past election years
  • About two-thirds believe the candidates are spending more time attacking one another than addressing the issues
  • 56%, believe political campaigns in our country lack civility and respect

I do consider it a tremendous blessing that our social networking venues have given the average citizen a platform to address what matters most in our lives, and to discuss passionately our beliefs with our friends and connections. But I fear many of us have slipped into the trap of following the examples of the candidates themselves, by spending more time in attack mode that in meaningful conversations about the issues at hand.

Why does this matter? Isn’t it our right as Americans to employ our rights to freedom of speech to say what we feel? Yes, certainly. And yet, I’m also cognizant that my presence — and yours — in venues like Facebook and Twitter is a component of the New Evangelization. When my non-Catholic friends (for whom I am perhaps the only Catholic they will ever know) see me launch into a diatribe about Candidate X, they form a perception not only about me and my political beliefs, but about my Church as well. In my passion for my position, I may unwittingly act in a fashion that lacks the charity and diligence to which I am called.

As we lead up to this critical election in November, I am trying to train myself to pray prior to posting. I find myself frequently reading a post or tweet a few times prior to hitting “enter” and asking myself if the comment I am about to make adds anything uplifting and meaningful to the conversation. If my answer is “no”, I must hit “delete” rather than “enter”. This morning, I signed the Civility in America petition, which states:

We, the undersigned citizens of the United States of America, respectfully request that candidates, the media and other advocates and commentators involved in the public policy arena employ a more civil tone in public discourse on political and social issues, focusing on policies rather than on individual personalities. For our part, we pledge to make these principles our own.

Moving toward the election, I’ll be holding myself to the following standards and preparations:

  • Gathering information: Focusing on issues and facts, not attacks, and making an effort to educate my voting-age children on their right and duty to vote
  • Forming my conscience in prayer
  • Communicating charitably with others about the issues that matter most
  • Avoiding personal attacks and those who engage in them
  • Voting

We’re fortunate that there are some terrific online resources to guide us in our preparations to vote. I recommend a visit to the following:

I’ll leave you with a prayer I’ve been reflecting with for the past few weeks, obtained from the USCCB’s Prayer and Worship Resources:

Lord God, as the election approaches,
we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our city/state/country,
and how the Gospel compels us to respond as faithful citizens in our community.
We ask for eyes that are free from blindness
so that we might see each other as brothers and sisters,
one and equal in dignity,
especially those who are victims of abuse and violence, deceit and poverty.
We ask for ears that will hear the cries of children unborn and those abandoned,
Men and women oppressed because of race or creed, religion or gender.
We ask for minds and hearts that are open to hearing the voice of leaders who will bring us closer to your Kingdom.

We pray for discernment
so that we may choose leaders who hear your Word,
live your love,
and keep in the ways of your truth
as they follow in the steps of Jesus and his Apostles
and guide us to your Kingdom of justice and peace.

We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I’d love to hear from our readers on this topic. Do you feel that political vitriol is increasingly present in this election cycle, and if so does it matter? Are you of the opinion that “anything goes” in supporting and advocating for the important issues that matter most? Is there any hope for true “civility” in the political process?

Copyright 2012 Lisa M. Hendey


About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. She blogs at multiple online venues including Patheos. Her articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and the Catholic Press Association tour of Israel as a guest of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. Hendey lives with her family in the Diocese of Fresno, California.


  1. I believe we need to be guided by common sense tempered with the teachings we have learned from Jesus, “Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s.” I’ve been around a long time and there is ugliness in politics and elections but that doesn’t mean it has to be – we can take the high road and go to the library (shows you my age) and look up and read truths about all the laws and our leaders over the many years the ones that brought us to a great nation and the ones that almost destroyed us as a nation. Then sit down, talk to Jesus and ask ‘what would You do? and then pray that our minds and hearts are guided by His truth not ones created by others.

  2. I believe that if President Obama stops the blaming game and starts to let us know how he will help this country to heal itself. Then everything will be the way you wish… It is the President’s style of campaigning that causes all these chaos!!!

  3. President Barrack Obama must stop pointing his finger toward others and run a cleaner campaign. The chaos comes from the president’ s administration…

  4. Hi Lisa–unfortunately, political vitriol is “over the top”. Slander, innuendo, and outright lying seems to be justified if it helps get one the results sought–A WIN in the election. It is disgusting. However, as a Catholic writer I have found myself blogging in defense of my faith and the direction always seems to be guided by attacks on our faith by the government. Who could ever have imagined that the USCCB would unite and ask us Catholics to stand together against our government and defend our faith . Who would have ever thought that it would be necessary. But, IT IS. Having said that, to answer your question, “is there any hope for true ‘civility’ in the political process–my answer is: if God is brought into the equation, YES. Without God, my answer is NO.
    I have tired to maintain a civility in my blogs. Man oh man–sometimes it is not easy. You have a beautiful site and this was a great column.
    My latest blog has to do with “Hate crimes against we Catholic/Christians” staying civil was not very easy lol you can see it if you wish at http://www.slipperywillie.blogspot.com
    Best wishes and God’s blessings to you’
    Larry Peterson

  5. I believe that your tradition of praying before posting is a good one.
    I would caution our fellow Catholics and other Christians, however. Sometimes, we begin to justify our silence by saying that we do not wish to gossip or sin or claim expertise in a field where we have none…but that “silence” slowly and subtly can, if we’re not careful, turn into the complacency, all-tolerant, and lukewarmness that Scripture tells us Jesus will “spit” from His mouth. Though I agree that we do not have to, and really, MUST not, if we are to be true to our Faith, enter in to a political mud-slinging escapade, either in person OR online…we also MUST have the courage to speak up and defend the Church and Her Teachings in this election. If we follow your example of praying before posting and we have, as our center and priority, Jesus and His Truth, then we can have confidence in our own speech; knowing that we will be led by the Holy Spirit…when to speak and when to be silent. But, speak, we must, and we mustn’t shy away from the difficult conversations, discussions, and questions that people pose to us. After all, the Lord, and our Catholic Church, are worth being a bit uncomfortable for…or even being persecuted, because of.

    • Good comment Judy. I agree. I went to a Charismatic Conference this past weekend and we were called to do just that – speak out. Thank you!

  6. Lisa, you do not provide a bill of particulars. w/o such a listing of examples, it’s difficult to know whether your argument has merit, or to whom it is directed. For example, you I may say the Obama’s HHS mandate requiring Catholics to pay for the pill and abortion is demonic or that gay marriage is an attack on our culture. You may say that that this hate speech. Examples please.

  7. Lisa, you hit the nail on the head. We are ignoring the issues that we should be discussing with civility as a nation, and focusing on personal attacks instead. For example, here is an excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    2425 The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor.207 Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for “there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.”208 Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended. (676, 1886)

    This statement has direct relevance for us as a nation in this election and good discussion is almost nowhere to be found, except maybe on Catholic radio. And as you mention, the life issue is of supreme importance. It’s important, as you say, for us to talk about our differences without shouting and talking over one another as we hear in the media daily. It only creates animosity and not understanding.

    Thank you, also, for drawing attention to that prayer from the USCCB. I was just at their site recently but I missed it. Only 40 days or so left before the election. Every prayer counts…
    God bless and keep up the good work..

  8. I visited the Abraham Lincoln museum in Ill. recently. One feature of the museum is an area where an audio of the rants ofvarious columnists of the day makes it clear that this is not a new phenomenon. There is a tremendous amount of frustration out there, and America is so evenly split on so many tumultuous issues that rancor is to be expected. A lot of people, myself included, vent that frustration through comments. While civility and charity are important, so is passion. We are faced with a President who has a history of bare-knuckle, deceitful underhanded campaign tactics and a press that regards it’s misision as getting him re-elected. The stakes are so high that gentle hand-wringing and calm, measured tones seem insufficient.

  9. Lisa, excellent article! I so agree with you. I have been feeling the same way but have not been able to put my words together as you have here.
    A week or 2 ago, I was actually feeling sick to my stomach when I would go on FB and see some of the comments and mudslinging going on. Even among Catholics and even among so-called friends!I I just do not read that stuff any more.
    Thanks for the prayer.

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