With all the talk about civility that is going around like a head cold, there are some things getting lost in the shuffle. First of all some people see this whole thing as a result of the coarsening of society. They just want everyone to behave themselves. But I do not believe that the concern with civil discourse is an Emily Post nicety – a courtesy. Civil discourse is essential to a properly functioning democracy.
If we want a democracy in which everyone can believe what they wish, advocate what they wish we must expect a lot of disagreement on policy. So, if at the same time, we want to face the issues of the day, solve problems that crop up, and make progress, then we must find ways to compromise our differences of opinion. That cannot be done in a climate of ceaseless rancor and and vicious language.
Having said that, I would, however, note that most of the recent uncivil behavior occurred during the last campaign and was authored less by politicians than by the respective parties and their ‟hired guns” – the professional campaign managers. They who only care about winning election. They do not care if they leave a battlefield behind that cannot possibly be restored to productive policy making.
And to them the radio and cable ranters and the nearly anonymous “independent” expenditures in the media and you have a most Uncivil climate in which to resolve policy differences.
The public is often mislead. There was much talk during the campaign about the founding fathers as though they were impeccable examples of sweet agreement. Try that one out of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson — who disagreed – strongly – almost all their lives. The congress that reported out the Declaration of Independence had enormous disagreements that had to be worked out, compromised, if all thirteen colonies were to support independence.
So they argued, but never so viciously that they could not talk to each other and forge compromises. And remember, without those compromises, there would have been no declaration that we were a new a different nation. A nation that placed respect for individuals — including those with whom one disagrees — as one of its principle’s.