Let’s agree to be civil

Americans are fed up with the partisan bickering that is paralyzing Congress and preventing our country from coming to grips with its many pressing problems.


Too often Democrats portray Republicans as insensitive and heartless, even though most Republicans are God-fearing, churchgoing people who generously support charitable causes; by the same token, many Republicans view Democrats as lazy, indolent individuals looking for government hand-outs, even though most registered Democrats are working hard and fully employed. Such inaccurate, simplistic narratives reduce the true complexity of the situation, foster disrespect and misunderstanding, and ultimately divide and weaken the nation.


Sadly, the current presidential debate is exacerbating rather than helping to reduce these problems. Public discourse has never been more coarse, vulgar or disrespectful, with one of the leading candidates using terms such as “sleazebag” and “scum” to describe fellow Americans with whom he disagrees. This tendency to denigrate the opposition, rather than express thoughtful disagreement, has many causes, but in the end always the same effect — increasing paralysis, polarization and discontent. It is inconsistent with the premise of our democracy, which recognizes the inherent value of every citizen.


The inaction that results from political paralysis only stokes further anger, leading to more discontent and the steady movement within both parties toward candidates of the extreme, such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump; rather than the center, such as John Kasich or Hillary Clinton. It is frightening to think where the country will be in another decade if this trajectory continues.


While there are some fundamental underlying issues such as gerrymandering and campaign finance reform that need to be addressed, I would nevertheless like to propose a short-term palliative to help elevate the national debate to an appropriate level of civility and respect. This proposal is intended to help us all focus on solving problems rather than stigmatizing and talking past one another. Specifically, I would like to propose “A Compact for Political Discourse in America” that the candidates from both parties, and the parties themselves, would agree to observe. What follows is an example of what such a compact might say:


“We agree that civility and mutual respect are vital to the effective functioning of our democracy. “We acknowledge that our fates as Americans are inextricably linked and we must therefore comport ourselves, notwithstanding our differences, with mutual respect and compassion. “We agree not to challenge the integrity, intelligence or patriotism of our fellow citizens based on political disagreements or affiliation. No group, individual or political party enjoys a monopoly on honesty, patriotism or wisdom. The golden rule remains a wise and useful guide for our conduct towards one another. “We commit ourselves to the principle of treating every American as an individual, rather than a member of a racial, ethnic, political or religious group, as well as the principle of equal opportunity for all Americans. “We acknowledge that growing income inequality is a long-term threat to the vitality and stability of our country. More needs to be done to ensure equal opportunity for all and to eliminate remaining vestiges of discrimination. “We condemn anyone who engages in or advocates violence of any kind against his or her fellow Americans. Such conduct is shameful and totally unacceptable. We agree to unequivocally denounce those who resort to violence for any reason other than self-defense in the case of an imminent threat. “We recognize that while equal opportunity should be available to all, it is the duty of all citizens to acquire the skills needed to achieve economic success and contribute to the welfare of their families, communities and nation. As always, the keys to economic advancement are education, integrity and hard work; there is no substitute for personal responsibility. We want young Americans to have every opportunity, but we fail them if we do not continually emphasize the simple fact that taking advantage of such opportunities requires discipline, hard work and sacrifice. “We, the undersigned, advocate the adoption of these simple principles to facilitate the meaningful and respectful discourse required to strengthen and improve our great nation. We also agree to publicly denounce and withdraw support for any candidate or public official who does not abide by and support these principles.”

Is it naive to believe that the two major parties and their respective candidates can agree to observe such simple, basic principles, in order to foster a more mature and respectful national debate? Perhaps, but why should we ask or expect any less of those who seek to represent us?


Read the original article on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.