I cannot fathom what is happening in my country.
The incivility that so many have been bemoaning for the last few years has exploded into torrents of violence in the last few weeks.
Antifa taking over the streets of Portland, OR. Letters containing ricin or the ingredients of ricin sent to Secretary of Defense Mattis, President Trump, and others. Mail bombs sent to various Democrats and others who oppose Trump. The murder of two black shoppers at a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky. The killing of eleven at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
None of this is new, of course. The shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and three others in June of 2017 is only the most fierce example of political violence in recent months. Scalise received more death threats a year later. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, after encouraging supporters to accost members of Trump’s administration, spoke about “taking out” Trump in a speech, and former Vice-President Joe Biden said he wished he could beat Trump up. Madonna spoke about blowing up the White House, actor Johnny Depp talked about assassinating the president, and a version of the Shakespeare play “Julius Caesar” acted out the assassination of Trump. White supremacists marched on Charlottesville, VA where one counter protester was killed when she was hit by a car driven into a crowd by a white supremacist and a KKK member shot at black counter-protesters at the same event. Antifa threatened violence at a Portland parade if the local chapter of the Republican party was allowed to participate, so city officials cancelled it. Students at several universities have caused events to be shut down, classes to be cancelled, rioted in the streets to protest political events with which they disagreed, and have even attacked speakers and faculty members, sometimes goaded on by supportive faculty. Politicians have been run out of restaurants and other public places by crowds or staff demanding they leave.
And then there is Trump. From wishing he could punch in the face a protester at a rally, to promising to pay the legal fees of his supporters if they should hurt protesters at his rallies, to fantasizing that his shooting of a person in cold blood would not damage his popularity among his most ardent supporters, to equating Hillary Clinton to the devil, to saying that illegal immigrants “infest our country,” to his calling on a ban on Muslims entering the United States, to his regular attacks on the news media, to implying moral equivalence between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, to referring to Third World countries as “shitholes,” to implicating the impartiality of a judge because of his Mexican heritage, to wrongfully claiming that blacks were responsible for the overwhelming majority of whites murdered in the US … Trump has escalated the inflammatory rhetoric hampering the possibility of civil discourse in our nation. Unfortunately, Trump’s opponents, rather than taking the high road and meeting Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric with measured, respectful speech, seem to have felt freed by Trump’s style to adopt it or attempt to mimic it, to out-Trump Trump, if you will. Don Lemon of CNN recently claimed that, “the biggest terror threat in the country is white men,” and Hillary Clinton herself insisted that, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.”
You cannot be civil? Yes, Mrs. Clinton, you can be civil. In fact, you must be civil. For, if we conclude that it is impossible to be civil with those with whom we disagree or those we oppose politically, then when can we be civil? Civility would hardly exist, or have a purpose. No one needs to be civil toward those with whom one agrees. The precise purpose of civility is to create expectations of respectful behavior toward those with whom one disagrees.
It doesn’t help that our news media, rather than offering an objective, level-headed assessment of the news, instead prefer to be players in this tragedy. For all intents and purposes, Fox News is an extension of the RNC and CNN and MSNBC are extensions of the DNC. They may as well be on their respective payrolls. (Maybe they are! Yes, I’m looking at you, Donna Brazile!).
There is no toning Trump down. Many have tried. I can’t verify it, but I heard that his daughter Ivanka asked that he tone it down and he did, for a couple of days. Is Trump a racist? Maybe. More than that, I think he genuinely believes that those who are and who think differently than he represent a threat to him. In that sense, he may be like most politicians of any stripe, right, left, or otherwise. But, this proclivity is exacerbated in Trump because his style has always been blunt, bombastic, devil-may-care and remarkably tone-deaf and clueless to how his statements are offensive to a wide-swath of the populace. Combine that with a skin thinner than tissue paper and an ego that demands that every battle be picked, and you have a rhetorical disaster.
What to do? Many have simply stopped watching the news. I’m watching a lot less, to be honest. We can all certainly challenge those who represent us in government to a higher standard. It may be that people like Maxine Waters are so secure in their districts that they feel no need to be civil. But, that doesn’t mean that we ought to be heeding her calls for incivility. And Congresswoman Waters doesn’t represent most of us. We can hold our own representatives to account if they step out of line.
Mostly, though, we can be civil ourselves. I made the decision not to participate in political conversations on Facebook, and I’ve only broken that with a couple of people with whom I felt pretty sure I could manage a civil, respectful conversation. Someone posted a sarcastic comment on Facebook that I thought was very clever: “Life is short. Be sure you spend lots of time arguing with others about politics on Facebook.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) has written a book entitled, THEM: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal. I’ve not read it yet, but I hope to. Sasse says, the “terrible 2016 election was just a painful symptom of the bigger disease — which is our growing disinterest in the meaning of America.” In his book, Sasse apparently offers a way to healing by identifying and nurturing common bonds. There is still much that unites us as Americans. But, we need to find and emphasize what unites us rather than what divides us.
We don’t have to hate each other. There is no moral, social, or political obligation to do so. We choose to hate each other. Which means, we can choose not to. It’s worth it. For the sake of our nation, it’s imperative that we do.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.