For many years I’ve written a patriotic-themed column at the beginning of July, our nation’s Birthday month. I’ve talked about pride in family, community, and country. The feedback I’ve received has always been positive and supportive, but this year I received a response that was down-right scary.
In my July 5, 2008 column, I decried the increasingly negative, even vicious personal attacks coming from extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. I said, “Where in the world have ‘discussion,’ ‘debate,’ and ‘polite disagreement’ gone to? At least we’re not shooting each other with actual bullets, ...not yet. But I’ve heard threats to bring criminal charges against the Bush administration, which means certain folks want to follow in the footsteps of Stalin, Hitler and others who jailed their political opponents when they gained enough power to do so.
I’ve witnessed, even in my own family, relationships ruptured, feelings hurt, and trenches dug which were almost too broad to be crossed. Why can’t people just state their points of view about religion, politics, local government, gas prices, etc, etc, and allow everyone else the same privilege?”
One person ignored my call for civility and lashed out that “of course, George Bush should be jailed as a criminal” and went on to accuse me of advocating water boarding and being a terrorist, myself.
The reason I found this attack so distressful was that, not only did this person seem to believe America is a terrible country and our armed services personnel unworthy of support, he/she advocated punishing a political opponent through jail time. Political opponents and dissidents are jailed or executed in totalitarian countries all over the world. I certainly don’t want to believe that there’s enough motivation for the winner of this year’s presidential election to even consider bringing criminal charges against the administration preceding him.
We have a unique centuries-old tradition of political squabbling before elections, with verbal attacks, cartoon lampooning, etc. One raucous event during the 1872 presidential election year deteriorated into opponents whacking each other with canes on the Senate floor. But once the election is over, most folks go back to their normal lives. In the past few years, though, I’ve witnessed people becoming more and more radicalized, while the majority seems paralyzed from fear of becoming targets for the radicals.
This kind of disrespect for elected authority spawns violence in the general population. When hatred and anger take over our lives and become the focal point of our thinking, we shrivel inside. Respecting even those with whom we disagree doesn’t mean we condone criminal activity or avoid taking a stand for the right. But it does mean that we allow those whose opinions are different the same courtesy we’d like for ourselves.
May I again urge you to rely on Help From Above as you set an example for your children about how responsible adults conduct their political and personal lives. Together, we can restore civility in public discourse and peace in our hearts.
Would you believe that the same guy who called me a terrorist came back and repeated his assertion even more aggressively? So much for "civility in public discourse!"