Candidates and their supporters go overboard. They characterize opponents in the worst possible — even alarmist — ways.
High emotions can lead quickly to sewer-level words. No one person, party or political philosophy bears all the blame.
But, by and large, we are a more civil nation than what is put on public display during a presidential campaign. That’s why the current president, the president-elect and three former presidents can sit down over lunch and talk with one another as they did yesterday.
Sure this was no love fest. These guys have fired their share of barbs at one another through the years.
And the president-to-be carved his path to White House by portraying himself as a solution to the current problematic president.
Yet, with the campaign dust settling, one has to believe the current president when he said that he and all the former presidents want the new one to succeed for the sake of the nation.
No, all political hatchets don’t get buried. But there is civility — and that is something.
No coup de’tat. Just lunch and some private conversation about what many call “the loneliest job in the world.”
My only request of the current or next president would be to join Congress in enacting a law that requires all American citizens to read (or hear read) Stephen L. Carter’s 1998 book, “Civility: Manners, Moral, and the Etiquette of Democracy.”
Carter, a Yale law professor, wrote: “Respect for rules of conduct has been lost in the deafening and essentially empty rights-talk of our age. Following a rule of good manners may mean doing something you do not want to do, and the weird rhetoric of our self-indulgent age resists the idea that we have such things as obligations to others.”
When the book came out in ’98, Carter did a PBS interview with David Gergen in which he told of how the need for civility registered with him at a young age, when his African-American family moved into an all-white Northwest Washington neighborhood.
Upon arriving, they were less than comfortable until this experience, he recalled: “[A]ll of a sudden from across the street came this booming voice of welcome. It was a woman-a Jewish woman, as it happened-who lived across the street, had just come home from work, saw these five strangers. She knew nothing about us, welcomed us in this booming voice to the neighborhood, disappeared into her house. We thought that was the end of it, but it turned out she was back five or ten minutes later with a huge tray of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches to welcome us to the neighborhood-became fast friends with their family, and I would say those are the finest sandwiches I ever tasted in my life.”
Whether within the political sphere or during daily encounters, showing civility is more than a nicety. It is a necessity — because the alternative is so ugly.