From war and famine in the 20th Century to the presidential elections of 1988 and 1992,

veteran journalist Todd Brewster has been at the forefront of some notable events in recent history.

Ever since childhood, Brewster felt he wanted be part of a larger discourse, and that’s what attracted him to journalism.

He’s worked as a producer for ABC and as a senior editor at Life magazine. He’s also written several books on history and politics.

He said that working to inform the public has helped him develop “a keener understanding of our world and its inhabitants.”

Covering politics throughout the past two decades has granted Brewster a valuable position in a discussion that has emerged in today’s political climate.

That’s why he’ll be part of the Ridgefield League of Women Voters’ “Civility in Politics” panel Thursday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the library.

“We’ve had moments in our history where we’ve had colorful language merge into political conversation,” he said.

“But it seems that what we picked up back then has continued in a tragic line down further into the depths.”

Brewster said that public dialogue has noticeably coarsened and greatly declined in its quality leading up to and following the election of President Donald Trump.

“We all seek out those who reinforce and repeat the things that we say to each other,” he said, “and that can be very dangerous.”

Disagreement

By no means does civility imply letting go of your opinions, he said.

“Our whole history is filled with people fiercely disagreeing from various points of views on critical subject matter,” he said.

“It’s important that we retain respect for each other and try to understand each other and that we work constructively with each other.”

Even though people have always disagreed in the past, even on the pillars of our democracy, Brewster believes this time communication between political parties and their supporters is the worst he’s ever experienced.

“I lived through the Reagan years in the 1980s, and things were increasingly more polarizing,” he said. “But right now there is a certain level of vitriol that is really damaging to us.”

Twitter

Social media has had damaging consequences, Brewster said.

The anonymity, coupled with the ability to instantly communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time, has contributed to the decline of public discourse.

“People, including our president, are quick to jump on to Twitter and give an instant reaction,” he said.

“I think it’s important to take a deep breath and listen to those around us say something that is considered and thoughtful.”

Even the founding fathers disagreed, and often insulted each other with colorful language, Brewster said.

“But two things have changed,” he said.

“One is they spoke with the written word, which is more civil by nature than what we have now,

and the speed with which communications were made.”

Social media is a useful tool that has served to expand our global society, but according to Brewster, we are still learning how to use it.

“As with any technology in the early stages of its introduction, we tend to not be fully aware of the nature of the medium and the way it distorts messages as they go through it,” he said.

“It’s a transformative process as we start to become more savvy — and we will.”  

Civility in politics

Brewster hopes to find a solution, and said that discussions like the panel are a way to get there.

“One of the things I hope we’ll arrive at is not just that it’s a problem, but figure out what can we do to try to rescue it,” he said.

Other panelists include First Selectman Rudy Marconi, Region 9 Superintendent of Schools Tom McMorran, Newtown First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra, and Connecticut Republican Party Chairman JR Romano.