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Civility is Gone, Don't Let It Devolve into Violence

Civility is Gone, Don't Let It Devolve into Violence

If there’s one thing that’s worried me most about recent politics (and believe me, it’s hard to pick), it’s the blatant disregard for any semblance of diplomacy. I don’t mean the kind that concerns negotiations between nations (even though that’s certainly been a concern), but the ability to handle affairs with tact and care. I fear that, in the age of the fire tweet, we’ve become more obsessed with how badly we can burn someone than how we can effectively relate to them. This rhetoric, especially when aimed at journalists, can be extremely damaging to the institutions of this country. 

It’s no secret to anyone what the President thinks of “crazy” Joe Scarborough and “dumb as a rock” Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” and it’s even less of a secret that these are nowhere near the most unseemly phrases to be attributed to the Commander in Chief. But unfortunately, he is not the sole offender. Take, for instance, now-Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-MT), who was recently sentenced for having assaulted a journalist near the end of his special election campaign. There’s also the case of Phil Montag, a Nebraska Democratic Party official recorded saying, “I’m glad he got shot” of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) following the baseball field shooting targeting Republican congressmen. 

Some would further point out barbs from people like Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Ben Sasse (R-NE), or the comedic stylings of Alec Baldwin, John Oliver, and Samantha Bee. Let’s not mistake criticism via comedy and satire for personal attacks, physical attacks, or wishing death on someone. There are some instances when comedy oversteps (looking at you, Kathy Griffin), but the expectation for tact and grace must necessarily be lower for a comedian than political party officials, congressmen, or the President of the United States. 

Now, in an era where our top justice official seemingly calls for the prosecution of journalists unwilling to give up their sources, this rhetoric exceeds simple words. A scaling back of vitriol is necessary to avoid a very real threat of violence that is perpetuated against journalists in many nations around the world, including most notably, Russia.

I’m not telling you to be kind. In an era when we can’t decide on whether women should have access to healthcare (they should), transgender folk can use the bathroom they feel most comfortable in (they should), or whether we should deport Dreamers and bar people from Muslim-majority countries (we should not), I won’t ask everyone not to fight fire with fire. It disrespects those whose lives are most threatened by these policies, and it silences the vital voice of dissent. But I am asking you to use your words wisely. If you have the luxury of being diplomatic, I hope you take advantage of it. For society and government to function, we have to work together. That relationship works best when the mode of conversation is not limited to insults.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or the views of Arbitror itself.

Photo: “Fire,” Originally taken by Shan Sheehan with a (CC BY-SA 2.0 license). Use of this photo does not indicate an endorsement from its creator. 

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