As Americans celebrate Independence Day, incivility in politics has many people talking. Take a moment today away from cookouts and fireworks to reflect on the American character with clarity.
This has never been a particularly civil country, and incivility in public life seems to abound these days. A Virginia restaurant asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave because of her politics. Protesters confronted Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi when she was leaving a Tampa Bay movie theater. A woman with her 2-year-old son harangued Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt at a D.C. restaurant.
Those were just the highest profile incidents in the past few weeks. Don’t even get us started on the embarrassing and frequent incivility of the commander in chief.
Then there’s Florida Sen. Marco Rubio whose delicate ears burned when he heard the F-word in the media. He tweeted his shock after a survivor of the Maryland newsroom shooting declared on CNN, “Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, but I couldn’t give a f--- about them if there’s nothing else.” Rubio later lamely insisted it was a story about President Trump’s trade policy that bothered him.
How should that survivor have reacted? What is civility in the face of the most uncivil act and knowing that elected officials again will do nothing? Rubio demands the civility of delicate language.
Better, however, would be the civility of action that responds to tragedy. Rubio and his Republican colleagues steadfastly refuse to enact even modest gun regulations. That isn’t just uncivil, it’s inhuman.
They have no moral standing to define the line between civility and incivility. They are so easily offended but have never had a hijab yanked off their head on a flight or the police called on them because they were a black student napping on campus.
None of which is to say members of Trump administration shouldn’t be allowed to eat in peace. They should. But civility is a slippery slope through a wide gray area. It’s hard to get worked up about a few isolated incidents given the nation’s history.
When Thomas Jefferson ran for president in 1800, a partisan newspaper editor wrote that his opponent, John Adams, had a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
This is a country in which Vice President Aaron Burr killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in 1804. A U.S. representative beat a senator unconsciousness with a cane in 1856 on the floor of the Senate. And we’ve never been short on insulting nicknames for officials from “His Rotundity” (Adams again) to “Slick Willy” (Bill Clinton) and “Shrub” (George W. Bush).
Incivility is our heritage. James Madison warned that human nature would challenge our ability to work together. In Federalist 10, he wrote, “A zeal for different opinions … divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”
This July Fourth, rather than get worked up about public political slights that are no worse than our predecessors,’ be offended by the inaction of our leaders on so many crucial issues confronting our nation.