Something about politics makes people appear loony. The animus that it produces is astonishing. Not only do politicians and pundits keep displaying such animus, but critics of the politicians and pundits keep displaying it, too.
These days, finding civility in political discourse is like – to borrow a scene from the SpongeBob SquarePants TV show – finding the hay in the needle stack.
While pondering the reasons for a lack of civility in political discourse, I thought of the following.
Conflict Between the “I” Mentality vs. the “We” Mentality
In their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien describe the differences between Western thinking and Eastern thinking. In his review of the book, Robert Letham writes, “Richards and O’Brien contrast the rampant individualism of American society with the corporate and collectivist cultures that prevail in the East.” In short, the “I” mentality that dominates much of Western thought conflicts with the “We” thinking of Eastern thought.
That “We” thinking isn’t limited to Eastern societies. Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile explains:
“Most of my white brothers and sisters place a great emphasis on individualism and meritocracy. Most of my African American brothers and sisters, we’ve had a group experience. Our experience in this country has been defined first and foremost by this pigment that we share. So when we have these conversations about how to make progress, African Americans go to group experience pretty quickly. We speak in ‘we.’ And white Americans go pretty quickly to individual and speak of ‘I.’”
Disagreement about the Job of Government
Back when I attended meetings of the Libertarian Party, Libertarians repeatedly told me that the only legitimate job of the government is to protect people from force and fraud. That Libertarian belief clashes with the U.S. Constitution, which describes the job of the U.S. government as being more than just protecting people from force and fraud.
The polar opposite of the Libertarian belief is the belief that Uncle Sam should play the role of Santa Claus not only for people in the USA but also for non-Americans living outside the USA. This particular belief is the motive behind some complaints made about President Trump’s policy decisions. For example, people complained when President Trump reinstated the so-called “Mexico City Policy”, “which bars international non-governmental organizations that perform or promote abortions from receiving US government funding.”
Profitability of Incivility
Professional pundits need audiences in order to profit financially, and – like it or not – incivility in punditry attracts audiences. Professional pundits are in the business that they are in in order to benefit them, not the American public, and if incivility on their part is accepted by their audiences, then the incivility continues.
So, what about us who are seeking civility in political discourse? What can we do to promote civility?
I don’t know about anyone else, but I have to start by looking in a mirror. I first need to consider how I may have added to the existing incivility. I have to admit that I am as flawed as everyone else, and in the heat of debate, I may have contributed to the problem that I want to go away. Then I need to repent of any contribution that I have made to incivility.
Second, when responding to a pundit or critic, I need to keep in mind a lesson from the Tanakh: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It doesn’t matter if others respond to me with incivility. What matters is that I not respond to them with incivility. Fighting fire with fire isn’t the tactic that I need to be using.
Third, I need to reconsider how I talk about public figures. I should be able to criticize their words and deeds without resorting to name-calling. I confess that I have been guilty of name-calling when it comes to public figures. I apologize for doing so.
No, humility and repentance aren’t bad things when one wants civility.
Then again, perhaps not everyone wants civility. Perhaps that is the biggest cause of the incivility. I hope that I am mistaken.
I do believe that it is possible to find civility in political discourse. That is because someone managed to find the hay in the needle stack.
By the way, there is someone who is tougher than Chuck Norris.