So, it has happened again. Leaders of our country have declared “war” within our borders. Like all bits of history that repeat themselves, the events are not perfect mirror images but rather a recurrence of circumstances. In 1861, the war was over one major ideological division within the country. In 2018, the war is over, well, everything. In 1861, the North and South fought. In 2018, the Republicans and the Democrats fight. We now refer to 1861 as the Civil War. In 2018, future history books may refer to our time as the Civility War.
This week, several prominent voices in politics declared that the days of civility are over. At least, until they regain power. Then, supposedly, all the vitriol and rhetoric that has clouded our great nation will suddenly disappear. Pardon me if I am doubtful.
I enter three recent events into evidence for my case that the Civility War has begun. No. 1: On the behavior of the Senate, Hillary Clinton said, in part, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for. What you care about. That’s why I believe if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”
Is Mrs. Clinton suggesting that somehow if two Democratic senators beat two Republicans, suddenly the entirety of both parties will magically become “civil.” Or was it more of a “the gloves are off” sort of statement? I can’t say for certain which is the more correct characterization.
No. 2: Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said to attendees of a national conference on ending homelessness, “Please, get up in the face of some congresspeople.”
Well, at least he said “please.”
No. 3: Former Attorney General Eric Holder re-wrote a decidedly more civil statement coined by former first lady Michelle Obama when he said: “No. No. When they go low, we kick them.”
Now, lest I appear to be unfair in three singular examples from people in the same party, let me share some unpleasant memories of the campaign from our current president while reminding us that few from that other party stepped forward to call out these incredibly uncivil public comments: a) “I’d like to punch him in the face!” b) “I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will” c) “We’re not allowed to punch back anymore…. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
If someone had endless hours, one might be able to find who threw the first rock. But that really doesn’t matter. What matters is which side will stop throwing insults, false allegations and untrue characterizations of “the enemy.” One thing I’m sure of is that this “war” like others has been brewing for a long time, certainly long before 2016. And I predict that, as much as I hate to say it, it won’t end in 2018. Or likely 2020.
The casualties will be much different than in the 1860s when the cost of our incivility was an estimated 750,000 human lives. However, this time, the casualties might be the constitutional tenets that thousands died for in another war, where we were willing to let incivility rise past rhetoric and morph into physical violence.
History repeats. And I, for one, am already finding myself weeping at the casualities.