There was a time politics was in vogue. A day when the discussion of ideas, the state of the country and how to improve lives and protect our nation took priority. There were mutual respect and admiration, not only for the ideas, but also for the individuals delivering those ideas.
Somewhere along the way, the political system — and the way of life as it pertains to respect and consideration — has gone off the rails. It’s now more about one-upmanship, who can scream the loudest and who can spit out the most demeaning, one-liner hook for the evening news cycle.
Charles Sykes and Carolyn Lukensmeyer concluded in a Thought Experience for NBC News that “civility is now a foreign concept in American politics.
“Too many Americans refuse to entertain the possibility that an opponent might be a decent human being despite being wrong about an issue. So instead of conversations that might change minds, we reduce our debates to toxic confrontations.”
Civility in politics can be done. In fact, it was more of the norm for a couple of centuries. Sure, there are seasons of discontent and volatile debate, hurt feelings and upstaging, but those generally give way to civil discourse once again. In fact, the constitution itself was a product of men disagreeing again and again and finally coming to productive fruition that left us with what many believe the best document in the history of the world.
One of the greatest examples of adversaries putting aside differences was in the ’80s when two Irish Americans became frenemies.
President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill were on completely opposite sides of the political spectrum. One was the epitome of conservative, the other the ultimate liberal. But they came from an era when politicians could debate honestly and passionately in Congress and in the public square, then sit down to dinner and have a good laugh.
In fact, Reagan and O’Neill often ended a tough week together over drinks at the White House. It’s one reason they were often called frenemies. They could put aside the stark differences and not reduce the conversation to name-calling, stone-throwing and demeaning personal attacks.
In 2012, O’Neill’s son wrote in a piece in the New York Times about the two iconic politicians: “…it wasn’t the drinks or the conversation that allowed American government to work. Instead, it was a stubborn refusal not to allow fund-raisers, activists, party platforms or ideological chasms to stand between them and actions — tempered and improved by compromise — that kept this country moving.”
Today more than ever, the civil discourse has turned to incivility! There is no mutual respect. There is no honor. There is no benefit of the doubt. The opposing sides don’t go to dinner after a floor debate or share a mutual respect a la their predecessors from decades past. Instead, contemptible rancor and irreverent defiance rule the day.
There is no reasoned, balanced, thought-out legislation emanating from the halls of Congress anymore. The day of working across-the-aisle to better America are in the past. Obamacare was passed primarily by Democrats with their backs to the wall. The most recent tax overhaul was pushed through by Republicans determined to make reforms.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that this uncivil discourse is now rooted in our media and it is spilt over into American society. Those are obviously stories for another day, but there must come a day — and hopefully soon — that someone or someones will stand up and say “Enough is enough!”
Someone or someones articulate and compelling enough to recognize the road to destruction we’re travelling and who can convince people to “keep the country moving” with their “stubborn refusal” to accept the idiotic, petty ridiculousness and kick the status quo out the window.