Meditations on Civility
“In politics as in philosophy, my tenets are few and simple. The leading one of which, and indeed that which embraces most others, is to be honest and just ourselves and to exact it from others, meddling as little as possible in their affairs where our own are not involved. If this maxim was generally adopted, wars would cease and our swords would soon be converted into reap hooks and our harvests be more peaceful, abundant, and happy.”
― George Washington
It has been said that no great leader ever spoke to two people the same way.
I try, and fail often, to do the same as a writer.
I prefer to avoid apologetic persuasion though, to be honest, it requires both the rational and the creative to be good at it. Persuasion can be viewed as utlimately subversive depending on the ends. However, turning the tables on listeners’ assumptions to surprise them with a willingness to flex and engage with varying opinions-even unpleasant ones, is a good idea for any writer interested in an invigorated and participatory readership. This piece, and several that preceded it were written with that in mind.
I had planned a nice little list of "How to argue and make nice-nice with your political opponents" here, but I was too tired to make one up, and based on the response to my last political piece, I think it might be useless. For some rules that will never be retired, click here.
I believe that government is officially broken, and this should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever read any of my political pieces. I believe it is broken beacause our "democractically elected" officials are behold to crony capitalism.
The Pew Research Center conducted a survey as early as 2012 asking Americans to provide the one word that best describes their current impressions of Congress. The results were overwhelmingly negative. Of those offering a response, 86% said something negative (with "dysfunctional," "corrupt" and "selfish" being the most used words).
Other national studies echo this growing pessimistic, anti-government sentiment. For example, 61% of Americans believe the country is in decline. Only a quarter of the population thinks the government can be trusted. And 56% of those questioned believe the federal government is so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary Americans.
In a time now ancient to us, Speaker Sam Rayburn ruled the House. Rayburn governed during a no less volatile time period. (World War 2, Korean, the beginning of Vietnam). During this period of economic upheaval the House flipped six times in 21 years. He got along so well with his GOP counterpart, Joe Martin, with whom he traded the title of speaker four times – that in 1954 after winning back the majority he graciously told Martin keep the prized offices on the second floor of the Capitol with a balcony overlooking the National Mall that traditionally went to the Speaker. Those plush offices became the domain of the minority leader for 40 years until Newt Gingrich took them back in 1995. You remember Newt, the man who pretty much solidified rancor in the Clinton days.
It’s hard to imagine either side being gracious anytime soon . Rancor has compounded since Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" during the SOTU in 2009. The upcoming election cycle will assurdedly be the loudest, rudest, most uncivil ever. The political mud has been fairly cemented, either in heads or policy positions with all the political universe stuck. Anger continues to mark the overall temperent and there will be no going along or getting along, for all that Ryan has promised to restore to that august chamber, the slack-jawed, Freshman Speaker of the House from Wisconsin is going to have his hands full.
Ryan will have a tough time convincing his freshman class to get along with the other side. Polling since 2010 show voters no longer really care if politicians get along – they do not care about bipartisanship – evidenced by the candidacy of one Donald Trump. In effect, to get change the electorate has decided to toleate the most bombastic of bomb throwers. Bernie, though a bit old and a classic Vermonter, is no less "passionate". I doubt Hillary will be able to continue to evade Benghazi, the debate over which is about to be reignited and completely blurred by release of the proto-political propoganda piece, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Someone ask Leni Riefenstahl to pass the geknallt mais.
In an age of opposition, where research is eclipsed by movies and tweets is civility possible? Internet anonymity brings out the worst in people – just witness the blog comments in my last piece on the SOTU. Granted a good 1/4 of the comments had to be deleted as the insults added nothing to the conversation.
If you have read my political commentary before, most especially the piece linked, it is no secret that I, like many of you, have issues with the current political system in general. I also will state that this President has fought an uphill battle since day one against inherent biases in government, racism and an overall xenophobia that has delivered us the probable nomination of Mr. Trump.
The President has indeed failed to deliver on the fully progressive agenda that many of us- many business people, believed in. I believe his instincts and intentions are good, but I also believe he has done very little to ease the real issue--and that of corporatism. I am fully aware of both the rancor people have around POTUS, and that the state of the economy and the failure of his foreign policy in many voter's eyes falls on him, however this position is incredibly naive. Presidents often inherit legacies that go back to 8-12 years prior to their taking the Oath of Office. Economics and the study of political opportunity structures cleary bears this out. I suggest the reader do a bit of research and avoid knee-jerk reactions, certainly I am not making these statistics up.
Let it be said that the chagrin of many readers has been noted, some of it even reported, as the private messages I received where both unkind and in some cases, criminal. I will, to those folks's great remorse, repeat what the President has rightly urged.
What I’m asking for is hard.
It’s easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn’t possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future. Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure. As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.