Posts Tagged ‘Civility’


The midterms are done. President Trump hailed a great victory (see Orwell, George, 1984). Republicans did expand their majority in the Senate, but Democrats took control of the House. What now?

I’ll begin by stating there’s no better time for Americans—religious or not—to heed Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Espousing differences is legitimate, and recognition of this principle represents the essence of civility.

Alas, during the midterm campaigns, some on the left rejected the concept of civility. They viewed the other side, aka the far right or any conservatives, as inherently bad. Civil discourse cannot be permitted. Compromises cannot be reached.

Sadly, the nature of civility is misunderstood. Those who espouse it—centrists left and right—accept disagreement on policies and will work with their opponents to fashion win-win solutions, understanding that no one gets everything they want.

At the same time, civility’s proponents need not—shouldnot—accept the hateful rhetoric of demagogues and racists, including such statements as, “There were fine people on both sides” of the white-supremacist, anti-Semitic rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

What now? The House’s new Democratic majority, perhaps led by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has the opportunity to stand up for its ideals, propose legislation to transform those ideals into a reality—infrastructure for starters—and undertake governmental oversight consistent with the House’s obligations. All while reaching across the aisle.

Or, the Democrats’ left flank can inform their centrist party colleagues and Republicans that they refuse to support any legislation President Trump proposes. Period. Oh, and propose steps towards impeachment. More gridlock?

Trump and GOP members of Congress may launch their own gridlock initiative by blocking any and all Democratic proposals. Period. At least they’ll be consistent. The White House may also seek to impede the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. On Wednesday, Trump asked for—and received—the resignation of Attorney General Jeff , whose recusal from overseeing the investigation angered Trump no end.

Trump filled the post of acting AG with Matthew Whitaker, who has publicly cast doubts on the Robert Mueller-led investigation. By the way, earlier this morning Trump said he doesn’t know Whitaker—just his reputation. Then again, Trump once denied knowing who former KKK grand dragon David Duke was. A true innocent!

The Whitaker appointment stirred a hornet’s nest. Some legal scholars believe that a constitutional crisis exists: the president cannot appoint an acting head of a cabinet-level department without consent of the Senate. And while Mueller may be overseeing the writing of the final report, will Whitaker attempt to withdraw funding for its completion. Or, if too late, will he withhold it from Congress? If he’s still around? Democratic pushback is a certainty.

And bank on this: A Democratic committee chair willsubpoena Trump’s tax returns. Trump will refuse. The matter will end up in the Supreme Court. Things will get uglier.

If we actually believed in our national motto E pluribus unum—Out of many, one—we’d find ways to accommodate each other. But centrists may represent only a minority of Americans. And Trump will do everything possible to divide rather than unite a nation inexorably headed towards a majority of minorities—many whites’ greatest fear.

What now? I can only propose that civility beats civil war.

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The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy aside, the nation remains focused on Central American children separated by the federal government from parents who have crossed our borders illegally, claiming refugee status. Democrats anticipate leveraging this issue during this fall’s midterm Congressional election campaign. But some have forgotten their goal: to beatDonald Trump, not beDonald Trump.

Congress has yet to address immigration law and policy in a coherent and comprehensive manner. Its occasional attempts at problem-solving resemble Band-Aids affixed to holes in the hull of the Titanic. Yet some Democrats seem to copy the behavior attributed to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat: he never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity.

Last weekend, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, was booted from the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. Owner Stephanie Wilkinson related that her wait staff felt uncomfortable serving Sanders’ party. I assume her staff leans Democratic. Certainly, it’s anti-Trump. But expressing differences of political opinion in this way does a disservice to our political process. And to Democratic candidates. Ms. Sanders picked up on this.

Addressing White House reporters, Ms. Sanders explained in level-headed, straightforward, un-Trump-like terms that harassment of people who work for any administration does not represent the American way. I agree—the first time I’ve ever agreed with anything she’s said.

President Trump, not surprisingly, took the opportunity to miss an opportunity. Statesmanship? Fugeddaboudit. His response included an observation that the Red Hen needs a paint job. This was the comment of an angry ten-year-old hurling insults in the schoolyard. Countering Ms. Sanders intelligent words, it offered another smidgen of hope for Democratic victories.

Still, at least one Democrat may have dimmed the party’s hopes by also responding like a ten-year-old.

Los Angeles congresswoman Maxine Waters, who works the far-left side of the aisle, went Trump. At a demonstration against current immigration policies, Ms. Waters told protestors, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” [Italics mine.]

Ms. Waters sent a message to independents crucial to Democratic hopes that difference of political opinion enjoys no legitimacy in America.

In his 1998 book Civility, Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, the Yale law professor Stephen Carter wrote of Leviticus 19:18, “The duty to love our neighbors is a precept of both the Christian and Jewish traditions, and the duty is not lessened because we happen to think our neighbor is wrong about a few things.” We can hold to our religious and politicalopinions while engaging in exchanges of ideas free from intimidation.

Absent such civility, Democrats will appeal to their base on the left but alienate centrists looking for reasonable answers to complex questions. Frustrated, they could cast their ballots for Republicans or, also damaging to the Democratic effort, sit the election out.

Further dragging down American public discourse as Trump has done serves no worthy purpose. Demagoguery and hatred tarnish the American Dream. They equate it with Macbeth’s poignant observation: “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”

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Last Sunday, Hall of Fame sportscaster Vin Scully retired. His 67 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers offered a model of civility too often missing in our nation. What made him, in addition to his upbeat and warm persona, a prototype for American political and societal behavior?

Certainly, you’ve got to be good to broadcast for one team over 67 seasons. Vin, a native New Yorker, came to Brooklyn Dodger baseball in 1950 at age 22. Harry Truman was president. I remember his broadcasts fondly. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Vin went west. Angelinos took to him immediately. So many fans at the ballpark listened to him on transistor radios that his voice carried across the Coliseum then, starting in 1962, Dodger Stadium.

Objectivity set Vin apart. Although paid by the Dodgers, Vin was never a “homer.” Yes, he wanted the Dodgers to win. But his broadcasting was impartial. He freely gave credit to opposing players and never covered over Dodger mistakes. Season after season, he remained gracious and respectful to everyone.

Interestingly, Vin worked alone long after “color men”—mainly former ballplayers—invaded the broadcast booth to root for the home team and tell fans what an announcer should know about the game. Vin knew a lot. Yet he never intimated or stated outright, as many color men do, that he knew things his audience didn’t.

The consummate professional, Vin kept listeners and TV viewers up to date on the game, avoiding the obvious for the TV audience while providing strategic insights as required. He never rambled on about extraneous matters as do so many announcers today. His stories always related to the players and baseball. Vin also understood when to remain silent and let the crowd paint the picture.

Consider his eloquent call on April 8, 1974 in Atlanta when Henry Aaron of the Braves broke Babe Ruth’s longstanding home run record. While Aaron, a black man, rounded the bases and the crowd roared, Vin said nothing. Then, after teammates mobbed Aaron: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. This man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South while breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol… What a marvelous moment for Henry Aaron.”

Civility well describes Vin’s relationship with baseball fans and everyone around him. He never put down opposing players. He never complained about bad calls. And making an incredible gesture, he retired at the end of the regular season so that the Dodgers, not Vin Scully, would be the focus of the upcoming playoffs.

Stephen L. Carter, professor of law at Yale University, wrote a wonderful book, Civility, Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 1998). His thesis: People should treat each other with respect even when they have very real differences on serious issues. While civility—call it good manners—may sometimes seem contrived, it remains critical to maintaining democracy and extinguishing sparks that can flare into violence.

If our major presidential candidates—and I particularly cite Donald Trump—practiced the civility exhibited by Vin Scully, we’d likely feel much better about the upcoming election.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out Post something on Facebook, too. And the next time you find yourself disagreeing with someone, maybe listen to the other person before you respond—with civility

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