The Dignity Index has released scores for select passages from last night’s Senate debate and last Friday’s Second Congressional District debate.
Applying the principles of the Dignity Index, coders selected the high- and low-dignity segments to represent the widest range of dignity during the debate. This selection provides insight into the range of language often expressed in political dialogue. As a result, the scores of these passages may not conform to an individual’s perception of the entire debate.
As with the other debates, examples of both contempt and dignity for both candidates were evident, showing individuals are capable of both. However, in this debate there were more examples of contempt, and fewer examples of dignity.
In a country as polarized as ours is now, it’s natural for people to be suspicious that The Dignity Index is a secret scheme to gain partisan advantage. It’s not. The Index is not on the side of any debater; it’s on the side of the debate – and on the side of democracy.
As we set out to design a dignity scale, we did not anticipate what happened. We found that the dignity scale measures not only how we treat each other when we disagree; it also measures how well we ease divisions and solve problems.
As an example, if I’m speaking at level THREE, I’m basically saying that I belong to the good people and you belong to the bad people. This attitude takes away our ability to talk to each other, and leaves us little chance of solving problems. In fact, the problems will get worse because we can’t talk about them.
If I’m speaking at level FOUR, things are slightly better. I’m not saying you’re necessarily a bad person trying to do bad things. I just think you’re either reckless or immature or irresponsible. Or you’re just not “one of us,” and I don’t really trust you. And we still can’t talk to each other.
If I’m speaking at level FIVE, I stop the contempt. No more negative labeling or name-calling. I say what I think and what I believe. I put forward my arguments. I listen to yours. I might even make a proposal for making things better. This is where problem-solving can start.
If I’m speaking at level SIX, I’m curious about the other side. I take the chance of reaching out. I’m convinced we must have some common interests and values and I start talking to you in the hope of finding them, so we can use them as a basis for cooperation. I get a sense of pride from accomplishing something with the other side.
If I’m speaking at a level SEVEN, I’m curious not only about what we might agree on; I’m curious even about what we disagree on. I want to talk with the other side, even if I’m going to be told I’m wrong. I don’t mind that. I’m willing even to admit some past mistakes and change my mind – because I think it’s silly to think my group is always right and the other group is always wrong. I think talking to people I disagree with is sometimes where the blind spots vanish and the breakthroughs come.
We saw this pattern emerge as we scored lots of debates and speeches, and that’s when we realized that treating others with dignity and easing divisions and solving problems are the same sets of skills. And the Index was more valuable than we thought.
It can’t tell us what the right policy is, or what the right approach is. It just encourages us to take dignity and contempt into account when we make decisions, take actions, and speak our minds.
Senator Mike Lee (Republican)
I don’t disagree with the comment just made by my opponent. States can do better. We know our topography, our demographics, or geography, our specific needs better than any bureaucrat in Washington ever could.
Score: 5 This is a general statement of “goals, views, and plans” delivered without any contempt. This is a standard feature of FIVE.
Competition lowers prices and it brings up quality. What we need is competition this way as long supported allowing the importation of drugs from neighborly countries with regulatory systems that we can trust. I’m with Bernie Sanders on this one. Feeling the Bern. It drives the drug companies absolutely berserk. But I support it because it’s free market and it’s free market in a way that would bring about more competition and lower prices.
Score: 6 By noting that he agrees with Bernie Sanders on this point — considered the most liberal Senator – he is finding “common values and interests” with “people who don’t share all my views” – a feature of SIX.
With DACA beneficiaries, I don’t think any Member of Congress of either party disagrees. We have to do something. There are a lot of people who have been brought here as children sometimes as infants, by no choice of their own, by their parents. In many instances, these individuals don’t even know the language of their home country, let alone know anyone there. So I don’t know anyone in Congress who believes that they should be systematically categorically uniformly deported. It’s not physically possible and it would seem inhumane and unlike us as Americans,
Score: 6 This passage identifies in a number of places values and beliefs that are held across political divides. Noting that deporting would “seem inhumane and unlike us as Americans” implicitly acknowledges common values that bind us across difference – a clear feature of SIX.
So it’s not surprising to me that you would come here today and spout not only lies but lies that are specific to the leftist cause, lies that are specific to the Democratic Party and lies that certainly are not applicable to me.
Score: 3 A defining feature of THREE is an attack on the moral character of another, often made to support the claim that “We are the good people, and you are the bad people.” The speaker says that his opponent is telling lies, and a type of lie that “the leftist cause” and “The Democratic party” usually tell, which ties the Mr. McMullin to a group, or several groups, who represent “the bad people.”
Okay, I think I disagree with everything my opponent just said including the words “but” and “and.” It was an information-free truth-free statement. That’s something of a record. Look. There’s absolutely nothing to the idea that I would have ever supported ever, ever did support a fake electors plot. Nothing, not a scintilla of evidence suggesting that and yet you continue to insist that with a Cavalier, reckless disregard for the truth. This is sad. This is troubling. It’s also entirely consistent with your adopted political party. You have sought for actively courted and obtained the endorsement of the Democratic Party.
Score: 3 “A cavalier, reckless disregard for the truth” is a phrase that “attacks the other side’s moral character,” – which puts this passage at a THREE. The language, like the previous passage, fits the moral attack into the larger claim that “we’re the good people and you’re the bad people,” by tying his opponent to his “adopted political party” – “The Democratic Party” – which he “actively courted and obtained the endorsement of.”
We also need that Republican offset to a president who’s not all there, to a president for whom my opponent voted, a president who has been saber rattling and speaking of Armageddon under circumstances that are deeply troubling to all of us.
Score: 4 Charges that attack an individual for “their commitment, their competence,” suggesting that they are irresponsible or immature or somehow unfit (but not “a bad person” – which is a three) is a FOUR level statement. “A President who’s not all there” falls in that category.
I do believe that Social Security and Medicare are important elements of our social fabric in America. I’ll work with anybody who wants to ensure our seniors’ future. I think the biggest challenge right now is our fiscal irresponsibility as a country and I again, I’m talking about both parties. Both parties are guilty of fiscal responsibility, and only when both parties work together, can we get our fiscal house in order.
Score: 6 Seeing it as “a welcome duty to work with the other side” is a mark of SIX. Noting that fiscal order comes only when the parties work together is a strong statement of support for the principles of SIX.
The job of a senator representing Utah is to work across party lines to solve problems. We have a legacy in the state of sending senators to Washington. Senator Bennet, Senator Hatch. Now Senator Romney, they worked and worked together across party lines to solve problems. Senator Lee, they don’t only vote no. They’re at the table negotiating a better deal for Utah in our country. And I’m committed to doing that on our spending and on every other issue.
Score: 6 Earlier in the passage, the speaker had given credit to Senator Lee for his ability to stand alone and say no. That compliment was a mark of SIX – when you’re complimenting someone on a skill or an accomplishment, you’re identifying a shared value. In this passage, the speaker celebrates past Senators for working “together across party lines to solve problems.” A clear expression of the principles in SIX.
I think that it’s absolutely critically important that that we find a constructive way forward on the issue. I’m pro life and I’ve always believed in the sanctity of life. And I oppose the extremes on both sides of this issue. Those who are in favor of late term abortions on demand and those who would ban abortions without exceptions. I think that’s wrong. This issue is dividing our country unnecessarily. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a more constructive way forward.
Score: 6 In scoring a passage, it’s often important to identify “the other side.” In scoring this passage, we have considered that “the other side” are the people on either side of the political divide in this country. The speaker is suggesting these two sides can find common interests and values that can serve as basis for cooperation. That makes it as a SIX.
The extremes in our politics have far too much influence in the Republican and Democratic parties. And that is not the Utah way. They don’t represent most of us. Our politics are broken to the point that our country’s future is now at risk. Most of us know that our country – it feels as though we’re coming apart now because of the broken politics you hear from my opponent.
Score: 4 When people speak at the FOUR level, they tend to say of people on the other side that “They’re different. They don’t really belong. They’re not one of us. We shouldn’t trust them.” The speaker is making this point about “the extremes, which he says is “not the Utah way.” “They don’t represent most of us.” And he is saying his opponent is in that group. If he wanted to criticize his opponent, and do it with dignity, he could challenge specific decisions, actions and outcomes. That could be a FIVE or even higher. But when the speaker criticizes the other side but doesn’t get specific, then the complaint is about the person, not the action. That’s what makes this a FOUR.
Well, I certainly think it’s important that we protect voters rights and that we protect the peaceful transfer of power Senator Lee. But for you to talk about the importance of the Electoral College, I think is rich. I think you know exactly how important it is. And I think you knew how important it was when you sought to urge the White House that has lost an election to find fake electors to overturn the will of the people. Senator Lee that was the most egregious betrayal of our nation’s constitution in its history by a US senator, I believe, and it will be your legacy. Senator Lee is still casting doubts.
Senator Lee, you advised spurious so-called legal efforts to mislead tens of millions of Americans that the election had been stolen, and congratulations, you succeeded. As recently as this year and even tonight, you’re still casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election. You’re doing a tremendous disservice to this country. Senator Lee, you betrayed your oath to the Constitution with this. It is and for this state, Utah that was founded by people like my ancestors in yours, who sacrificed greatly to finally realize true freedom, for you to represent this state and to cast away, to abandon, to throw away 14 generations of American leadership, I think is a travesty.
Score: 3 The mindset of THREE attacks the other side’s moral character, declaring directly or implicitly that “we’re the good people, they’re the bad people. We’re responsible for all the good things; they’re responsible for all the bad things.” That’s what the speaker is saying with the words, “Senator Lee, that was the most egregious betrayal of our nation’s constitution in its history by a US senator.” Supporters of Evan McMullin might say, “But it’s true!” Just as Senator Lee’s supporter would say “That is false!” The Dignity Index is not a fact-checking tool. Its purpose is to measure the way a point is made – out of the conviction that the more contempt is used, the more it will divide us, and the more dignity is used, the less it will divide us. It is possible, and better, to hold people accountable and still treat them with dignity. It involves a disciplined focus on the individual’s decisions and actions and their outcomes. It means avoiding sweeping condemnations that stir up contempt and increase the divisions in the country.
Do you think it’s right that we pay more for prescription drugs here in America than almost any other people in any other country. Is that right? I wonder if you’d be so proud. And if you’d have that same smirk if a woman named Anne, who I met on the campaign trail here, she pays more for life saving prescription drugs for her child than she does for her mortgage every month. And Senator Lee, she reached out to your office pleading for help. And in response, she received a dismissive form letter. I wonder if you’d still be smirking if she were here today.
Score: 3 THREE is an attack on a person’s moral character, claiming the other person is a bad human being. This passage falls into that category. The speaker has Senator Lee smirking over the story of a woman suffering under the financial burden of her pharmaceutical costs after having been dismissed by his office. The speaker could have made his point with more dignity and less division by focusing on the needs and trials of the woman named Anne, without adding his view that Senator Lee is a bad person who doesn’t care about people.
Second Congressional District
Cassie Easley (Constitution Party)
I really have a problem trusting the government to follow the Constitution the way that it was written. And they go in and they make all kinds of laws that are not even within their scope of what they’re supposed to be allowed to do. So, they’re taking the authority to do things that they were not given. So that’s something they need to stop doing.
Score: 4 The passage reads, “I really have a problem trusting the government to follow the Constitution.” This corresponds with the FOUR description, “attacks the other side’s performance…we shouldn’t trust them.” This is a vague attack that expresses contempt and doesn’t offer any specifics. To challenge (not “attack”) the government — and still treat the other side with dignity (and score a FIVE), the speaker could point to a specific action taken by a particular individual or agency, explain how it went beyond their authority, and then offer a proposal for addressing the overreach. Without a specific example of the problem or a proposal to fix it, the speaker will just generate contempt.
I agree that the Colorado Compact is good for Utah because it does give us a lot of water that we need. I do know that the federal government is responsible for the BLM lands that we have. And there, especially in the southern Utah area, I’ve talked to a lot of people that I know that farm and say that there’s a problem with the watersheds, that the federal government’s not keeping them up to par. So that does affect our water and how we can get it out, especially in a lot of the alfalfa fields down here.
Score: 5 – This passage explains “a goal, a view or a plan” — and does so without any contempt for the other side. The speaker names a policy area that needs attention, but the statement would be a more powerful problem-solving statement if the speaker offered more facts, detailing the problems with the watersheds and suggesting how they might be fixed. Offering a proposal is a mark of a dignity-based discussion.
When it comes to abortion, I am against it but I am for women being able to make choices. You should choose not to have sex, because it does cause pregnancy, if you do not want to get pregnant–or use protection. And the choices need to come before there’s another life involved. And I think that the states–and if it is put on a ballot initiative, I think that would be a great thing for the people to actually be able to say what they really want. My personal belief is that it’s wrong.
Score: 5 The speaker is declaring her position on abortion without expressing any contempt for people who don’t share her view – and she’s making a proposal for a ballot initiative that would allow everyone to be heard – a strong feature of FIVE on the Index.
Chris Stewart (Republican)
For context: The moderator Boyd Matheson has asked each candidate, “What is one thing that government should stop doing and one thing government should start doing to regain the trust of the American people?”
So then, what would I have the government do? The one thing I’d ask them to do: be honest with us. We can take it. We’re strong enough. Tell us the truth and tell us the solutions of how we can fix some of these problems. Again, give us the truth. We will accept the truth. And I’ve found that almost every American will work towards a solution if you’re just honest with them in the beginning.
Score: 6 In assessing a statement for how the speaker treats ‘the other side,’ it is important to identify who “the other side” is. In this statement, the government could “the other side.” But we have scored this passage considering that “the other side” are the people on either side of the political divide in this country. In that frame, the speaker is making a clear and direct statement that all of us together will work towards a solution if we know what the truth is. We’ll all come together to solve these problems as long as we know what they are. We score that a SIX – reflecting a mindset where people see it as “a welcome duty to work with the other side to find common ground and act on it.”
And some of the things that Nick has said I agree with. But Nick, I disagree; we do need to be able to mine on federal lands. You’re right, probably not Bears Ears. Probably not the national monuments. But there’s other federal lands of the BLM that I think would be open to us. But we’ve got to do one or the other.
Score: 6 The speaker says, “Some of the things that Nick has said I agree with.” That grounds the conversation in some common values and interests. Then the speaker takes the problem-solving discussion further by using that agreement as a point of departure, and then begin to discuss differences, but in a persuasive, not a confrontational way (“you’re right, probably not Bears Ears”. Having established an area of agreement, he keeps touching on the areas of agreement even as he broaches disagreement. There is a “Let’s keep talking” tone to this passage. Very skillful. Very SIX.
What we are seeing on the southern border is a catastrophe. It’s a crisis, and what’s unforgiveable about it, it is the one that was deliberately created by this president, by this administration and his Democratic leaders in Congress. Why in the world does it make any sense to open up our southern border, to essentially say, “Come on in, and not only will we allow you to come in, but we’re going to protect you, and we’re going to finance you, and we’re going to take care of you once you’re here.” Of course people are going to cross the border, millions of them.
And the human price of this is fentanyl. It’s other drugs, and it’s human trafficking that is a tragedy for young women and for girls. And once again, it was something that was created by this president. It’s nearly unforgivable that he would do that.
Score: 3 In the first few lines, the speaker describes the situation on the border with the words “catastrophe” “crisis” “unforgivable” and “deliberately created.” The message is that the President, his administration and “his Democratic leaders in Congress” are bad people intentionally doing bad things that are hurting us. This aligns with THREE on the Index, “We’re the good people and they’re the bad people,” “We’re responsible for all the good things and they’re responsible for all the bad things.”
To challenge the President, his Administration and the Democrats in Congress on the border situation – and to do it with dignity (which means to create opportunities for problem-solving) – the speaker could explain the current situation on the border, describe the Biden policy, link the bad effects to the Biden policy, describe a new policy that would fix the problems, and then describe the work he has been doing to get people in his own party and across the aisle to support this new policy. That would be a SIX approach to criticizing the President’s border policy. A THREE approach simply stirs up contempt — sympathetic listeners will have contempt for the President, and non-sympathetic listeners will have contempt for the speaker.
Nick Mitchell (Democrat)
(addressing Congressman Stewart): So, if it wouldn’t have changed the election, why vote to not certify it? [CROSSTALK] I’m not done talking. If you knew it wouldn’t have done anything, there was no point to not certify. It doesn’t matter if you thought that there was irregularities or not, which we know that there was not. You were just told to do this by your Republican leaders. That’s the only reason why you do things, and it’s not okay.
Score: 3 This is a moral character attack. The speaker is saying that Congressman Stewart has given away his moral agency to another group, and does what he is told to do without regard to his own views. “That’s the only reason you do things,” puts this clearly in category THREE. If the speaker wants to challenge Congressman Stewart on his vote on January 6, and do it with dignity, he would focus on the decision to make the vote, the arguments for and against the vote, and the effects of the vote – but to attack the Congressman on his motives, declaring that “you were just told to do this” is a moral attack and an act of contempt.
When it comes to the Colorado River Compact, I think that it’s a good start, and I think it does need to be updated. But more than that, I think when you have a shift in our cultural mindset, we are in this together, the entire Southwest. If the Colorado runs dry, Utah will become unlivable; Nevada will become unlivable; Arizona; New Mexico. We need to come together and work it out. We need to start using less. We do need to conserve. We do need to have brown grass. Representative Ward of the Utah Legislature actually proposed a bill to make it so HOAs couldn’t fine for having brown grass. But it didn’t get passed. That bill should have been passed.
Score: 6 The speaker makes a very clear declaration of his position, which is a FIVE, but then he goes beyond that by saying “we need to come together and work it out,” which makes it a SIX. The Colorado River Compact “is a good start,” and “I think it does need to be updated.” He identified common values and interests, and uses it as the basis for cooperation.
When it comes to the refugee crisis, it’s something that we need to have compassion for. These refugees didn’t want to leave their home, but they were forced to. And so, I think that we need, once again, to have a serious conversation about compassion and where that falls in politics because that is missing in Washington and we need it back, just that understanding nature of people being afraid, not wanting to leave their homes but they’re forced to. We need to have compassion back.
Score: 7 To score a passage, we need to have an understanding of who is “the other side” – even if it’s only implicit. This passage could be scored as if Washington is the other side, where compassion is missing. In that case it would be a FOUR. But if you consider the refugees as “the other side,” this is a SEVEN. SEVEN is about fully engaging others, being curious about the deepest differences and disagreements, and, in particular, trying to understand how people on “the other side,” have come to their views, what they have gone through, how they came to believe what they believe. When the speaker says we need to understand people “being afraid, not wanting to leave their homes but they’re forced to,” he’s stepped inside the mind and experience of someone “on the other side,” trying to learn what they’ve been through in a way that helps bring the two sides together.
About The Dignity Index project
The Dignity Index is an eight-point scale that measures what we do when we disagree. The scale ranges from one — which sees no dignity at all in the other side — to eight, which sees dignity in everyone. Each point on the scale reflects a particular mindset, and each mindset is associated with certain beliefs and behaviors that reflect how open we are to the other side. As a broad rule, if I treat you with dignity, it means that I can see myself in you; if I treat you with contempt, it means I see myself above you.
Dignity in public debate involves making proposals, declaring values, stating goals and discussing decisions, actions, and outcomes. It includes listening carefully, and asking for more information. It means debating why something worked or didn’t work, whether it will work or why it won’t.
Contempt in public debate relies on mocking others, calling them names, attacking their motives and character, ridiculing their background or beliefs, and lumping them together in large groups under negative labels, declaring them dangerous, and blaming them for bad outcomes.
When we treat the other side with dignity, we make it easier to solve problems. When we treat others with contempt, we make it impossible to solve problems – because contempt takes away our ability to talk to each other.
Powered by UNITE, a national movement to encourage Americans to reject “us vs. them” thinking and stand together in common purpose, The Dignity Index was developed in partnership with behavioral scientists and other experts, and the demonstration project is being guided by researchers at the University of Utah. Learn more at dignityindex.us.