– By Jackie Finley –
What comes first, the chicken or the egg? When it comes to the current low level of our political communication, I’m not sure.
Is our society’s lack of decorum at the root of the political system’s crassness, or are some of our current leaders and their teams encouraging low standards of public behavior by acting like petulant brats, demanding attention in order to deflect from serious issues or hide their own inadequacies?
I don’t have the answer, but regardless of the cause, why aren’t our politicians, including President Trump and his political team members, setting better examples by being more respectful and measured in discourse and demeanor? While this trend has worsened over the years, Trump’s snarls, insult-laden “speeches,” and unfounded accusations against numerous progressive politicians and experts with whom he disagrees have reached new heights. If the United States, the alleged role model for democracy and human decency, does not halt its downward spiral into déclassé political rhetoric and school yard antics, it will end up being one of the most tragic stories in world history.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines civility as civilized conduct, especially courtesy and politeness. Civility comes from the Latin word, civil, meaning relating to public life, befitting a citizen. Showing civility means to be respectful, even if individuals don’t agree with or even care for each other.
On the other hand, incivility (“not of a citizen”) implies rudeness and discourtesies. When did it become acceptable, even comical or satirical, for our leaders to choose this course and to forget that decorum is a key to a strong and united populace, one that can withstand differences of opinion and still work together for the benefit of all? Not only the president, but everyone in office, should set a tone that not only expects, but demands, dignity in debate and respect in negotiation.
While no one was totally innocent during the 2016 campaign, personal attacks reached a new low when candidate Trump referred to Hillary Clinton as a “nasty woman,” showed no remorse when his past adolescent behavior was blatantly exposed, or insulted other candidates, and their spouses, by crowing he had the most desirable wife. Is such conduct a means to engender confidence in leadership, or is it a misguided attempt to relate to everyday Americans – are we really that crude? – and “talk their talk” In order to get elected?
Regardless, it is no surprise that we all lose. The campaign set a tone that has continued long past November’s election. We no longer listen to each other without becoming angry and defensive. We refuse to reflect on others’ perspectives or opinions. We become “us vs. them,” hurling insults at each other like fishwives in an early morning market. Any sense of being American, whether coming from a liberal or conservative perspective, becomes lost in the fray, along with the hope of acknowledging shared goals and values or reaching intelligent solutions.
Even United States Representative Peter Roskam, (6th District; Illinois), a Republican, recently stated his constituents long for civility in politics. He blames President Trump for the current poor level of national discourse. While I feel the Trump administration has set a very low standard for behavior in politics – I continue to be flabbergasted at what the president sometimes says and does – I also feel Democrats, Independents, Greens, and others, need to take the higher road and offer an alternative political model, one of more dignity and good manners. In other words, exhibit how politics should be handled.
Former Vice-President Joe Biden commented a few weeks ago that we, as citizens, should step back and give President Trump the chance to govern. (He probably meant let him dig his own grave.) I was initially taken aback by Biden’s request, as I know there is no love lost between the current president and the former vicepresident. Biden’s appeal gave me pause to think, however, and the opportunity to consider what he had said. If we do little but scream “across the aisle” from each other, or if we accept uncouth behavior without protest, our chances for reconciliation and reunification diminish. I don’t think we, as concerned citizens, should give Trump carte blanche to bring down the country, but I do think our protests against some of his policies and platforms should carry an element of dignity and purpose. They will be much more effective that way.
The chicken or the egg? I don’t think it matters, as long as we acknowledge that lack of decorum in our political offices is damaging our unity. Whether the fact that base behavior comes from our general society or trickles down from our leaders is less important than stopping it, demanding higher standards, and replacing it with a level of communication that can allow us to move forward. The saying, “You can’t un-ring a bell,” is potentially true in this situation. Let’s stop the downward plunge before it is too late to rebuild and redefine a more reflective, civil society.