President Obama’s State of the Union set off a national conversation about political civility in America. Both the president and Sen. Nikki Haley, who offered the Republican response, lamented the state of political affairs today, which is marred by animosity and distrust.

Concerns about the loss of political politeness are hardly new, but seem a regular feature of politics, with Congress and the media handwringing about how we need fewer kicks and more kumbaya. Perhaps the most dramatic example came after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), when there was near-hysteria about the tenor of our political environment.

The concern about political rancor today isn’t without some merit. A new study by the Pew Research Center found, “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.” Anyone watching cable news or attending a dinner party knows that politics is often, at best, unwelcoming. Even among “like-minded” friends, the battle over the “establishment” vs. “outsiders” often takes over.

Yet before we blame social media or cable news and celebrity talking heads as the enemy, we ought to look back at the founding of the country when – as Joanne Freeman describes in her book Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic – “regional distrust, personal animosity, accusation, suspicion, implication, and denouncement was the tenor of national politics…”

The fact is there’s never really been a “golden era” of political civility. From our time as colonists to the American Revolution and early republic, through the Civil War, Americans have endured centuries of political debate, controversy, and, at times, real hostility – much of which was far more bitter than what we’re witnessing today.

Still some may argue that we ought to have evolved from these earlier periods. Some of my colleagues on Forbes on Fox claim our political divisiveness prevents government from getting things done today – from tackling serious issues facing the country from national security to immigration to education.

But I suspect our founders recognized just the opposite: that political disunity helps stem the growth of government, and coaxes more reasonable, modest policies into place. Most importantly, they understood that our willingness to debate and disagree signals that we’re a functioning, healthy democracy. (In fact, far more worrisome is when we stop having such contests and we fall lock-step behind a unified ideology.)

So perhaps what many Americans feel is missing today — and what Senators Trent Lott and Tom Daschle write about in their new book Crisis Point: Why We Must – and How We Can – Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America – is a sense of order, decorum and civility in our dispute. For many, it feels as if boundaries are increasingly ignored. From the egregious undermining of the Constitution through the use of executive orders, to the arguably smaller abuses of rules such as trying to squash minority rights through the end of the filibuster or shutting down the government, more and more Washington creates a sense of contempt, chaos, and fear. And even campaigns have frequently turned into red meat throwing circuses.

I join a PBS television show fairly regularly that puts two women “on the right” around a table with two women “on the left.” And as I’ve grown to know many of the panelists over the years, I’ve also come to find that there is more common ground than I would have imagined. When we can think of ourselves less as Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or progressives, but instead as women, moms, and Americans, we begin to look at one another – and our perspectives – through a different lens.

Pew Research reminds us that there is “widespread dissatisfaction” among Americans of both political stripes. And both “sides” see their team as losing more often than winning. Disagreement is critical. We have serious concerns in this country, and we’re often not going to see eye-to-eye; but perhaps there’s much more room for civil discourse—and, just as importantly, disagreement.

Sabrina is executive director of Independent Women’s Forum, where the mission is to reach women about limited government and liberty (in a reasonable tone).