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Requiem for Civility

September 28, 2016

Shootings are taking place around our country with sickening regularity, and I think I know why. Sure, the proliferation of unlimited guns on our streets is a contributing factor, as is an entrenched overseas enemy (ISIS) using the Internet to ensnare disgruntled individuals for sinister purposes. Another factor is unequal opportunities for minorities trapped in an economic system that marginalizes them, but these are only contributing factors, and like the five blind men trying to describe an elephant after each touched a different part, they don’t provide a true picture of the overall problem which was birthed from a lack of civility.


As I see it, the polarization of American politics escalated when Newt Gingrich tried to undo the election of Bill Clinton through impeachment proceedings resulting in an evaporation of civility in our government, and this from a man who at the time was cheating on his own wife and engaging in an illicit affair while attacking the President for a sexual indiscretion.


While I don’t condone Bill’s actions, they never rose to the level of treason which would have made impeachment appropriate. Gingrich and others, like child molester and former Republican speaker of the house Dennis Hastert, should have weighed their decision to put the President on trial against the damage it would do to our nation and our image around the world, but alas they didn’t. The personal attacks on Bill Clinton, while accurately addressing his flaws, had little to do with his ability to perform his duties as president and played a significant part in the political animosity engulfing us today.


But pointing fingers isn’t the best way to evoke change. It’s obvious an erosion of confidence in our leaders has taken place. Our current presidential election is a face-off between two of the least popular candidates in modern history. It wasn’t that long ago when our elected officials respected a “loyal opposition” deemed necessary for a healthy democracy. Respect was shown without challenging an opponent’s patriotism, religion, morality, intelligence, stamina, trustworthiness and parenting abilities. Compromise was once revered as the “gold standard” of governance, the bassinet of our nation and the font of our identity as a problem-solving people, not the dirty word it’s become.


When I think about all these shootings, I can’t help but imagine myself as a troubled young person setting out to make a place for myself in society. Many of these individuals come from broken homes where single parents struggle with inflation and poor paying jobs to pay rent and put food on the table. Kids grow up with less supervision than ever before.


When I was young, I had faith in my church, my country, my leaders, the military, my neighbors, my teachers and the police. Today, these are all under attack. Many young people feel disconnected from society? Those coming of age today can no longer expect to do better than their parents, and making matters worse, serious concern exists that pollution and global warming will ultimately render our planet uninhabitable.


If we want to stop the massive dissatisfaction young people feel with society, if we want to squash the ability of our enemies to recruit our disgruntled young people, we must stop trashing our country and each other. In spite of current political rhetoric, America is not in decline; we are not on the ropes. True, we haven’t been this divided since the years leading up to the Civil War, but this is the result of cynical opportunism seeking to divide us for political purposes.


If we truly want a better country, one that isn’t traumatized by daily shootings, we must stop demonizing each other, refrain from calling our opponents liars or crooked. We must show respect in order to receive it. It makes no sense to say we need to take our country back. We ARE our country. We have a representative government and unfortunately, they accurately represent us. Congress is currently experiencing unprecedented disapproval ratings yet we are the ones who voted these people into power, making them a reflection of what’s wrong with us.


If we want to reduce shootings, we need to improve mental health programs in this country instead of expecting police to deal with troubled individuals on our streets. Young black men need to feel less threatened by those patrolling their communities, and cops have a right to go home to their families instead of being targeted for assassination.


It’s time to stop calling all of our institutions corrupt, time to stop criticizing our media, our courts, our military leaders, our schools and inner cities, not because we’re blind to challenges but because it’s difficult to build anything on rubble. Back in the 60s a popular slogan read: My country right or wrong. I never liked that slogan. I preferred another: My country when right, and when wrong to be put right.


At this stage of the game is it even possible to return to civility? It is if we believe it possible. It begins by demanding civility from those we put into office, holding our leaders accountable for legislation even when it includes compromise, and being critical of ungentlemanly or unladylike conduct even when the target is someone we don’t support. Name calling and demonizing each other must stop.


America is and always will be great, but it will always be a work in progress. A significant rung on the ladder of improvement starts with each and every one of us being more kind to each other. A failure to do so may require a requiem for more than civility.






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This is an excellent commentary on what is happening in our country. When civility is no longer a requirement of behaviour, the result is bound to be a country without boundaries and with a great deal of unrest. Excellent post, Stephen...
By: The Broad on September 28, 2016
Nicely written piece, sir. Dr. Phil should be called upon to perform an intervention. :)
By: Daniel LaFrance on September 28, 2016
I agree but think this began when we had a President that broke into the campaign office of his opposing political party. Of course, the liberals did not pursue the prosecution of this, because perhaps, like you, they knew it would be dangerous to the country.
By: Tabor on September 28, 2016
There was a time, Phillip, when I thought of the Republican Party as the mostly honorable opposition, but I now see it as devoid of honor and I regard its nominated candidate for president as a ignorant psychopath and a pathological liar. When that party demonstrates that it cares as much about me as it does about big business, and when gives up it willingness to put our government into default when it doesn’t get every little thing it wants, and so forth, maybe then I’ll regain some of the attitudes that you’re talking about.
By: Snowbrush on September 28, 2016
Why I called you Philip, I have no idea. Surely, my IQ isn't dropping so rapidly that the second commenter's reference to you as Dr. Phil did it, but I have no better explanation. Of all that you so eloquently and thoughtfully wrote here, the following resonated with me the most: “When I was young, I had faith in my church, my country, my leaders, the military, my neighbors, my teachers and the police. Today, these are all under attack.’ It’s sad to think that we’re producing cynical children, but so we are.
By: Snowbrush on September 28, 2016
I think the problem is more that the corrupt government has been bought by big international corporations. People feel powerless and when people feel that way, they lash out.
By: PT Dilloway on September 28, 2016
All I can say is "Amen!!"
By: fishducky on September 28, 2016
Excellent points here, and much of this has rarely been addressed, if at all. I hadn't thought of Newt's impeachment attempt against Bill Clinton as a tipping point for the country's moral decline but it makes sense. IMO, the internet has a lot to do with the rapid decline in civility - as well as the cable news media hell-bent on convincing us to tear each other apart simply to boost their own ratings. The hyperpartisan websites and social media memes feed this cycle of telling us only what we want to hear and allowing us to avoid dissenting viewpoints (like the Daily Show topic I mentioned on my blog) I hope we're able to reverse this trend but it would take an enormous effort from all sides and I don't see that happening. As for shootings and violent crime, the statistics say the numbers are down. But when 24 hour news and social media coverage replay these incidents on and endless loop they make us feel like society is crumbling and we lose faith in the facts, we mistrust our neighbors, and blame our government.
By: Chris on September 28, 2016
Stephen, Thank you for this powerfully stated illumination. I think you are correct to lay blame on Newt Gingrich for a decline in bi-partisanship in government. He was a destructive and corrosive influence in American political discourse. He was a technician without moral compass. Some of the blame should also be directed at the Reagan administration that began the mantra "the federal government is the problem." That illogical and misguided statement, designed to build a political base, has come home to roost. The Republican party morally bankrupted itself when it went to bed with the right wing fringe and the evangelical absolutists. Donald Trump is their spawn. There are other contributors to the decline in civility but the role of the political culture and the attendant media attention and its continuing vapid quality are a virus of demise.
By: Tom Cochrun on September 28, 2016
You've hit on something i've felt for a while, but could not put into words. Don't tell me what's wrong with the other person (ad hominem arguments), instead tell me what you are going to do that you feel is right, and why.
By: messymimi on September 28, 2016
By: Al Penwasser on September 28, 2016
All good points. all simple points that would be easy to follow. some how or other we need some genuine examples.Our leaders have to step up to the plate on this one. Keep on with thisimportant topic.
By: red Kline on September 28, 2016
You make a strong case, buddy. How about going into politics? Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on September 28, 2016
Unfortunately, my conspiracy-theory mind says there's more string-pulling going on behind the scenes than we will ever know. For both "sides." All we can do is try to make things better, since the alternative is to give up.
By: Val on September 28, 2016
Wow! Beautifully said. I agree, and I think we need to start by voting all congressmen out, the few clean babies in the dirty bath water included. Then institute campaign finance laws that prohibit PACS and lobbyists. Oh, and term limits, too. Then work our way down to state houses, and count court houses, and city halls. Corruption will not be tolerated. Civility will be expected from all, and rude people will be ostracized. Parents must do their jobs. I know, I know....fat chance. But your observations are SPOT ON!
By: scott park on September 28, 2016
well said- To help clean up our wounded country we need term limits so the WDC politicians will have to go home and hopefully the newly elected will practice civility and not get in bed with the corporations.
By: Kathe W. on September 28, 2016
And what is wrong with this world is any saying that says "My country". What we all need to get into our heads is that nothing is "mine".
By: LL Cool Joe on September 29, 2016
You make a lot of pertinent points about the current political climate. There is a similar situation here in the UK where we have an increasingly divided nation with polarised, unforgiving viewpoints, often blaming the 'other' for our current problems. With my other hat on, the only point I'd take issue with is your mention of mental health - interventions in this area will make no difference to the level of violence in Western society.
By: Bryan Jones on September 29, 2016
Amen to it all. Kindness matters. Thank you, Stephen. I won't go into anything else, except to say that I agree with all your words.
By: Robyn Engel on September 29, 2016
It is beyond rare that I agree with every sentence a blogger posts. This is one of those rare moments. Thank you.
By: Arkansas Patti on September 29, 2016
Exactly so. One thing I find disturbing is that young people believe every thing that is said on the internet, even without proof. I am disgusted with all of it...I can't even watch the news anymore because the talking heads are so twisted to their own views that they don't even let whomever they are interviewing speak their mind. I mean, why bother bringing someone on to talk if the interviewer thinks their own personal view is right and refuses to let the interviewee talk. I've seen it time and time again. The news is not the news's op ed -and it's if you don't agree with me I'm going to hammer and hammer and hammer you until I make you look stupid. . I really feel for young people who don't know where to go for answers or for the truth.
By: Terri on September 29, 2016
I agree with nearly everything you wrote except that the country more divided than since the Civil War. I remember the 1960's when there were huge riots in many big cities, particularly after the assassination of Martin Luther king. But we are nearing that time now and I couldn't agree more with you about the reduction in civility being largely the cause.
By: Catalyst on September 29, 2016
By: The Bug on September 29, 2016
You make so much senses. Lack of civility is to blame for many of society's ills indeed. Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on September 29, 2016

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