Rep. Pete Sessions Calls For Rethinking Tone In The Wake Of The Alexandria Shooting

But is a change in tone necessarily the answer to political rancor?

By Michael MarksJune 15, 2017 2:04 pm

After events like yesterday’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice in Virginia, what follows is typically a search for meaning, a search for what might change.

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Dallas), who chairs the House Rules Committee, says the attack is a sign that discourse in our country, in general, needs to become more civil.

“We’ve failed in our ability to communicate outside of Washington,” Sessions says.

The congressman points to a time in the past when opposing sides were able to hold a normal dialogue. But starting this year, he says that expressing displeasure with government has turned into “yelling and screaming.” Sessions traces the acrimony directly back to the tone set during the presidential election and says it needs to be addressed.

“The perspective that now has happened as a result of the shooting really is a game-changer for members of Congress,” Sessions says.

Sessions accepts a responsibility to foster a change in the political tone and suggests that even though we may have disagreements over issues, it doesn’t mean we can denigrate the other side.

However, some doubt that Sessions’ call for a softening in tone will stick.

Patricia Roberts-Miller, a professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Texas at Austin, says that when people who themselves engage in harsh rhetoric call for a change in tone, they are oftentimes viewed as really expecting just the other side to cave in.

Tone is not the real issue, according to Roberts-Miller. Rather it’s the type of arguments being made. We need to be better listeners during disagreements so we hear the point the other person is making, she says.

“That doesn’t mean that we have to be nice to each other or we have to say other people have a good point,” Roberts-Miller says.

Although she says people avoid disagreeing with others because it can turn ugly, it’s necessary to argue. But with a caveat: Arguing with each other instead of at each other or about each other is more productive.


Written by Louise Rodriguez.