Donald Trump and the End of Civility
If the Republican Party accepts Trump’s candidacy, it’s rejecting the virtues of teamwork, common courtesy and civility.
A serious threat to our country.
By Peter FennMarch 3, 2016, at 1:25 p.m.+ More
For a decade we have seen article after article, study after study, comment after comment on the death of civility in our politics. Politicians, pundits and academics worried that gridlock and the paralysis of Washington was heavily due to the nastiness of the political culture and the vitriol inherent in today’s politics.
Well, as Donald Trump might say – you ain’t seen nothing yet!
My friend, Ira Shapiro, wrote a terrific book, “The Last Great Senate,” about the accomplishments of the civil and functional U. S. Senate that we were both privileged to be a part of a few decades ago. Whether it was the Panama Canal treaties, passage of environmental legislation or social security reform, Republicans and Democrats actually worked together, forged compromises and got the people’s business done.
But as Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann chronicled in their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” published in 2012, the rise of tea party extremists and hard-right ideologues has polarized and paralyzed our constitutional system of government.
And now in 2016, we have Donald Trump, who would make Ornstein and Mann’s world of just a few years ago look like patty-cake. Trump, and many of his colleagues in this race who have followed his lead, has debased the dialogue and engaged in trash talk that would make a pro football player blush. It has truly spiraled out of control.
Facts and logical argument are cast to the wind like confetti; nasty statements about body parts are common and invective like “stupid,” “idiot,” “lightweight,” “choker,” “loser” are used by Trump in nearly every speech and press conference.
No one is writing about a return to civility so long as Trump has seized the stage, forcing a dialogue that has taken American politics even further down into the gutter. In fact, Trump has left many people who should be speaking out speechless instead. Now Republicans and conservative columnists are shaking their heads and wondering why the other candidates and Republican Party leadership have kept their heads in the sand for so long. A flood of pieces by the likes of David Brooks and George Will spell it out perfectly: talking about “the governing cancer” and Trump’s “demagogic cynicism and anti-constitutional authoritarianism.”
But I fault those Republicans and conservative pundits who clearly should have been focusing on this transformation from a government that governed and legislators who legislated into a collection of talking heads whose constant desire is to be on gladiator-TV. Or to give a speech that incites a crowd. Many of them embraced the tea party and chose demagoguery over dialogue.
What has happened to words such as thoughtful, wise, substantive, open-minded and even educated, learned and knowledgeable to describe those in the arena of politics and government? Why are those not the standards we use to judge our leaders?
I am left with the enduring cover image from The New Yorker a number of weeks ago, showing a television set with Donald Trump raging and Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt looking on in horror.
This is no longer amusing nor something that should be passed off as entertainment. This is not “The Apprentice” or some reality television show. This is real.
If we allow a person like Donald Trump to capture the Republican Party, let alone the country, the price we will pay will be lasting, and the damage will be serious and permanent. This is so far from anything we have experienced; that it has no parallel in our history. He is not, as he says, building a new expanded Republican Party. This “movement” is based on fear and loathing, racism and prejudice, xenophobia and hatred. It is based on our basest instincts, not on our best instincts. It is destructive, not constructive.
With a Trump ascendancy, common courtesy and civility will be considered weaknesses and the politics of irrationalism and fear will triumph. That must not happen.