So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides
that civility is not a sign of weakness
and sincerity is always subject to proof.
Let us never negotiate out of fear,
but let us never fear to negotiate.
Let both sides explore what problems unite us
instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.
– John F. Kennedy
A little over a year ago I posted a piece entitled, Re-Committing to Civility. The post was influenced by a number of factors, not the least of which was a presentation by former Governor and Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. At the time he was awarding the 2017 Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life. Prior to the presentation Ridge remarked, “The tone and tenor of the conversations in Washington and, frankly, in many centers of government across the country have become increasingly more poisonous. Civility is vanishing, and the consequences are great.”
Our midterm elections have reinforced my belief that political civility is in danger of extinction. While we did witness a few candidates run political ads that focused on the issues, we also hit new lows with a number of others (Wagner FB Post). Likewise, President Trump’s mocking of republican incumbents who lost reelection because they did not want his “embrace”, was less than “Presidential” and certainly not what one would expect of someone who hopes to encourage unification within his own party. However, a republican congressman-elect recently lit the darkness with the manner in which he responded to incivility disguised as comedic entertainment.
On November 3rd, SNL’s Peter Davidson did an improv on the midterm elections as part of the “Weekend Report”. He held up a picture of Congressional candidate Dan Crenshaw wearing his eye-patch and said, “You may be surprised to hear he’s a congressional candidate from Texas and not a hit-man in a porno movie. I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war or whatever.” That man in the picture was a former Navy SEAL who lost his right eye and much of the vision in his left eye from an IED blast suffered on his third deployment to Afghanistan. How did Crenshaw respond? He simply agreed with many others that Davidson had crossed a line. The Tuesday following the show, Dan Crenshaw was elected to congress. Later that week, SNL producer Lorne Michaels called Crenshaw to apologize and invited him to appear on the show Crenshaw accepted the invitation and following some good natured ribbing, accepted Davidson’s apology. He also took the opportunity to to send a message of unity, forgiveness and appreciation for veterans (Never Forget).
This past Tuesday, The Washington Post carried an “Opinion” authored by Congressman-elect Crenshaw. His article carried a simple message, “As a country we need to agree on some basic rules for civil discourse.” Crenshaw recognizes that there are many ideas that people will never agree upon, however there are important goals on which there is general agreement. It is how those goals can be achieved on which there is disagreement. How do we get past this? He recommends that we start by remembering to attack ideas constructively rather than those expressing them destructively.
George Washington, first president of this nation wrote, “Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.” In his upcoming memoir, the late Senator John McCain writes, “ I don’t remember another time in my life when so many Americans considered someone’s partisan affiliation a test of whether that person was entitled to their respect.” The right of each citizen to respectfully express their ideas, thoughts and opinions without the fear of retribution or retaliation is a cornerstone on which our democracy was founded. Failing to respect the expression of thoughts or beliefs, which may differ from ours, compromises one of the very core values on which this nation was founded. The choice is ours!
Embrace the Challenge!