The obligation of civility
Some years ago, our then Congressman, Amo Houghton, was honored in Washington, D.C. for being the epitome of civility in politics. It came not long after Congress had descended into acrimony following the ascension of Newt Gingrich to the Speaker’s chair after a brutal “take no prisoners” campaign he had waged to attain that office.
Amo knew that Democrats were no more evil than Republicans, and that once you started defining your political opponents as bad people — there could be no possibility for civil public discourse. You can have political differences without demonizing your opponent.
Recently, I read an article of how the polarization and “demonizing” process has split the community of Enid, Oklahoma. The issue this time was vaccination. Anti-vaxxers in that community, attacked the public health system and argued that those urging vaccination were hostile, despicable people associated with “metropolitan elites” who were trying to enforce their way of life on small-town, rural America. It is hard to bridge differences when public health concerns descend into political controversy and name-calling.
One form of incivility in public discourse in our own community that I have observed are signs on lawns using a four-letter word to describe our current President. To me, such words should have no place in principled discourse. They are not just gross, but are obviously also being read by our children who are riding buses on their way to school. What conclusions do our kids draw from this? Is public profanity now acceptable in the community? Do we want this kind of profanity to be taught in our schools? Maybe it is time to act as a community to remove these signs.
Though some of our local governments have ordinances limiting political signs to a certain number of days before an election, I have no problem with people who have already put up a sign or are flying a flag for those they want to see elected in 2024. If you want to fly a flag for your favorite politician or the Buffalo Bills — it is all right with me. Just don’t get sucked into the mud of using four letter words in so doing to describe those you hate. That is not the American way or, in my view, the Christian way.
Let’s go back to the schools for a minute. I have been pleased to see some of my grandchildren getting involved in student government at school. It is a wonderful process of introducing them to civic engagement and the need to work together on common problems. We don’t teach them to write hate signs using four-letter words at school. Why should we allow such signs in our community?
We have always had political differences in America — that is part of our political DNA. But, that has not meant that we need to demonize or down-grade those on the other side of the political aisle. You are not a bad person because you have differing political views from mine — we just disagree on some things. We take those differences to the ballot box on election day and once the results are announced, we move on and accept the results until the next election. That is the American way.
Civility in our public discourse is not an option, it is an obligation. We need to do a better job as adults in setting an example for our kids.
Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.