10 Thoughts: The Loss of Civility in American Politics

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It’s been a terrible month for civility and manners in American politics. Progressive protesters have harassed Trump Administration officials in public. A restaurant refused to serve White House press secretary Sara Huckabee Sanders because of her ties to the president. Rep. Maxine Waters (D. Calif.) urged protesters to confront Trump cabinet members and tell them “they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” The president ominously replied, “Be careful what you wish for.” The president’s family members have been threatened with vile social media posts. Many believe relations between conservatives and progressives are more strained than at any time since the riotous 1960s. Here are some thoughts on the breakdown in our political discourse, which has actually been suffering for years. Thankfully, most observers agree the recent incidents are wrong and set a dangerous precedent.

Civility in American politics has been declining for years, but has reached a new low in recent weeks. © Zach Stern

10. “I strongly disagree with those who advocate harassing folks if they don’t agree with you. If you disagree with a politician, organize your fellow citizens to action and vote them out of office. But no one should call for the harassment of political opponents. That’s not right. That’s not American.”

— Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate in a sharp rebuke to Rep. Waters’ call to harass Trump administration officials.


9. “How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?”

— A Washington Post editorial entitled “Let the Trump team eat in peace,” denouncing calls for public hectoring of Trump officials.


8. “Children, some still in diapers, have been seized from their parents by the government and locked in cages, with no clear way to reunite them with their families afterward. That situation might seem more urgent, in itself, than the question of how people chose to react to the government seizing children and locking them in cages. Yet here we are, caught up in this fuss over — manners? Civility?”

— Liberal pundit Tom Scocca, in the Washington Post, arguing that the immigration situation justifies the actions of protesters. Others have argued that those conditions existed under President Barack Obama, but didn’t draw similar reactions.


7. “I worry in our country right now that we’re descending to a hatred of American hating American that is not going to solve our problems. We’ve got to get to a point in our country where we can talk to each other, where we are all seeking a more beloved community, and some of those tactics that people are advocating for, to me, don’t reflect that spirit.”

— Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), saying its OK for protesters to confront people, “But do it in the ways that Martin Luther King did … Recognizing the dignity of even those who you oppose, even those who are trying to destroy you.”


6. “When it comes to the rhetoric of hate, the cursing of politicians, the shouting down of speakers, the right is not innocent, but the left is infinitely more guilty. It was to the Donald Trump rallies, not the Bernie Sanders rallies, that the provocateurs came to start the fights. Why? Because if you have been told and believe your opponents are fascists, then their gatherings are deserving not of respect but of disruption. … A cautionary note to progressives: Extremism is how the left lost the future to Nixon and Reagan.”

— Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan


5. “It’s hard not to pour poison down people’s throat and not have some of it come back up and bubble up. … You can’t foment as much hatred that has been fomented by the administration without having a blowback. So if they want to have more civility, they need to stop the name-calling and take the lead.”

— Former President Bill Clinton, on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, laying blame for the current political climate on President Trump.


4. “Let’s face it, Donald Trump has struck some sort of nerve. Unfortunately that nerve is fueling flat-out incivility as opposed to passion-driven purpose. Arguably one of the greatest problems we have in government today is a lack of civility among our political leaders. The real problem that continues to hamper the effectiveness of our government is the very behavior Trump embraces most: Incivility.”

Psychology Today writer Michael Woodward Ph.D., in a prescient August 2016 piece entitled, Trump and the Death of Civility in America.


3. “But there is little question that major political figures on both sides of the aisle have played footsie with mob action to little or no blowback. It’s not just Waters. President Obama made excuses for riots in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore during his presidency; Rev. Al Sharpton, who has actually been involved in precipitating mob violence, still gets to play peacemaker on national television; during President Trump’s 2016 campaign, he repeatedly referenced the possibility of violence against protesters.”

— Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro


2. “The great American experiment is a daring one that can seem hopelessly ideological at times. The only reason it continues to succeed is that we’ve had leaders who believed it could. We’ve had leaders who remind us, and show us, that people of different races, nations, faiths, ideologies and tongues can come together under a common set of values, such as those enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. People so different can’t help but fight. What’s different now is that we have a president who gets in the rings and sells tickets. Frustration and outrage among those who oppose Trump’s policy and rhetoric are palpable, and calls for civility often risk condoning his behavior. But this nation can’t rise above Trump’s tactics by stooping to them.”

— A Houston Chronicle editorial


1. “Bullying Trump supporters or those who work for him makes the likes of Waters no better than Trump himself at a rally encouraging the police to rough up a protester or personally attacking members of the media who are simply there doing their jobs. It’s small, low and dangerous. And just because someone else did it doesn’t mean you can — or should — do it too.”

CNN.com editor-at-large Chris Cillizza, who goes on to note that, “My Twitter feed is filled on a daily basis with liberals insisting that there is nothing too awful to say about Trump, his daughters, his sons or his wife. Whether or not these attacks are fact-based appears to be of little consequence to this element of the Democratic base; they are literally blinded with hatred for Trump.”


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