Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In the past few weeks, a competitor news outlet made a point of calling out one of our local municipal governments for updating and reaffirming a Civility Invocation that is read at the start of every formal public meeting, saying that government should stick to business.

Ark Valley Voice strongly disagrees. As the threat of domestic extremism and especially right-wing extremism has grown, so too has the realization that violence is being normalized.

A recent interview  involving Atlantic staff writer David Graham, who reported last summer on the killing of a retired judge in Wisconsin, discussed the political violence that appears to be on the rise in America, calling it “negative polarization.”

According to Graham “negative polarization” or “affective polarization,” is where people are driven almost more by their dislike of the other party than they are by any kind of shared value among their own party.”

Well, we’ve certainly got that going for us at just about every level of government, as well as within the local communities. The gap between being uncivil and harassment  — or causing actual physical harm — is rapidly narrowing.

Democracy image. Courtesy of the Harvard Business Review

Consider the following:

  • In 2018 we witnessed a Trump-supporting pipe bomber.
  • In just about every political rally during both his political campaigns for the White House, Trump openly encouraged violence against journalists and anyone who didn’t support him.
  • Extremists who hatched a plot to kidnap and kill Michigan Governor Gretchen Witmer were recently convicted.
  • January 6 (if it had been better organized and had more guns been used), might actually have gotten our Vice President and Speaker of the House killed.
  • After January 6, 2020 there was a Trump supporter who tried to attack an FBI office in Cincinnati
  • Last year a retired Wisconsin Judge was murdered by someone fresh out of his prison sentence, for handing down the guilty ruling.
  • Members of the House January 6 Investigation, routinely received death threats and those who testified were at first bribed, then threatened.
  • From North Carolina and Florida to the Pacific Northwest, people are shooting up energy transmission sites; apparently trying to disrupt our power grid.
  • Just last week, a defeated New Mexico GOP candidate allegedly hired others to shoot at the homes of Democratic officials including county commissioners and state Senators, in a case that is intensifying concerns about political violence in America.

To say that our elected leaders do not set the tone for our civil discourse is to say that Santa Claus has nothing to do with Christmas and ensuring good little boys and girls don’t get coal in their stockings.

No less than the Father of our country, George Washington believed there were rules for civility and decent behavior and even published a book about it which he expected his officers, and then his cabinet members to follow.

This county has had its share of political disagreements. But at this moment in time, there appears to be an active underbelly that just isn’t satisfied unless it either gets its way, or can tell the rest of us what to do. Much of their efforts are designed to normalize extreme views that don’t represent the majority.

This has the makings of a genuine anti-government movement that would seem the opposite of Washington’s “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior”. Fact-based and unbiased news media should and will point this out for what it is.

How is this gap to be addressed? By ensuring that government is transparent; that voters understand how to behave as responsible adults, and understand when and how to make their views known. But it doesn’t end there.

It includes active listening to opposing points of view, of respecting the opposition as persons who can and will differ from one’s own opinions. It includes honoring not just democratic debate but all who represent diversity — by gender, ethnicity, religion and creed, political persuasion, and viewpoint. And when a decision is made after rigorous review, following an established process, civility means that accepting the decisions of our democratically-elected leaders is paramount.

I believe that to run down a civility pledge is to disrespect our elected local government, disrespect the people who are our friends and neighbors who wrote it and approved it, and disrespects the tenets of leadership.

Asked whether leadership sets the tone for violence, in place of civility, Graham said, “One thing we do know is that leaders make a difference, and when leaders are condoning or even encouraging violence, that is likely to produce more violence. When leaders say it’s unacceptable, even in the service of their cause, that will tamp it down. That’s not all of the answer, but it’s one simple answer that we do have.”

“You can ask people to be civil, but when the council begins every meeting pledging to be civil, it has an influence on how people approach us,” said Salida City council Member Jane Templeton. “We’re not asking other people to be civil – we are pledging that we will be civil to each other and when people observe us being civil to others and to each other, then it really does set the tone.”