Hours before Montana’s special Congressional election, the Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, assaulted Ben Jacobs, a reporter from the Guardian. He actually threw him to the ground and started beating him after Jacobs asked an innocuous question about the health care legislation, a question that generally doesn’t trigger a no-one-questions-my-manhood reaction. It was reassuring when everyone above average on the sanity scale, began questioning Gianforte’s mental stability.
And yet, voters in Montana rallied to Gianforte’s defense, apparently, more enthusiastic about his candidacy than they were the day before, sweeping him into office. As Gianforte extended an apology to Jacobs at his victory speech, some of his supporters could be heard yelling “We forgive you!” in voices that reeked of “Awww, no big deal, Greg,” in homage, it seems, to Donald Trump’s oft-repeated belief that he could get away with shooting a New Yorker on 5th Avenue. Indeed, I got the distinct sense that Gianforte could take another swing at a reporter and face no electoral repercussions.
Sadly, this country has been bleeding civility since President Obama’s election unleashed right-wing partisans who felt it was acceptable to demean the President simply because he was black. But Donald Trump’s campaign took hate to a new level with his rants against reporters, in particular, but against all who ran against him, disagreed with him, or were of the “wrong” color, ethnicity, or religion. He inflamed passions against peaceful demonstrators and showed an appalling contempt for governmental institutions, the military, the intelligence community, judges, our foreign allies, the disabled, and even Gold Star families. With an alarming ignorance of history and science, he insulted anyone wedded to facts, truth, and science. And let’s never, ever forget the graphic details on how he thought women should be treated.
But, he got away with all of that. Enough people in this country said “We forgive you, Donald,” at the ballot box, so that, now, politicians, particularly those in his own party, feel emboldened to act out their baser instincts, too. The coarsening of our politics may not have been started by Donald Trump, but one can’t argue with how effectively he’s spread the contagion of his boorishness-on-steroids to a certain party’s political class.
In Texas, for example, our wheelchair-bound governor, Greg Abbott, threatened reporters with a display of his pistol target practice results. (He now says it was a joke.) Within days of that episode of gubernatorial malignancy, Texas House member from the Dallas area, Matt Rinaldi, also adopted a page from the Trumpian playbook, turning a peaceful protest of a bill banning “sanctuary cities” into a major scuffle on the House floor. Rinaldi was heard to have threatened an Hispanic colleague with a bullet to the head. Unfortunately, he’ll probably get re-elected despite this. Trumpian logic is you can “get away with” almost any loathsome behavior as long as you still get the votes, which is pretty easy in gerrymandered Texas.
But, I sure hope events like these aren’t becoming the new normal and “getting away with it” isn’t the new standard for behavior. After all, what kind of people beat up someone for no defensible reason, whether or not they can get away with it? Who fails to say “excuse me” when they bump into someone? Don’t most of us feel compelled to cover our coughs or help someone overburdened with packages open a door? Whether or not we can get away with assaulting or being considerate of others is really not the point. The point is that somewhere on the path toward civilization, we figured out that life is better if we show consideration for our fellow human beings, e.g., the Golden Rule. As Sigmund Freud pointed out, “It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built upon a renunciation of instinct.”
And yet, it has become ever more apparent that there is a group of Americans — Donald Trump being a prime example — who believe that their needs, whims, and desires are the only ones that matter. Whether it is a congenital condition or lack of good parenting and education, these me-firsters failed to mature into individuals who respect others and understand the benefits of acting collectively. Robert Fulghum would probably suggest that they failed kindergarten and never caught up. In his words,
All I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
I’ve seen many of these lessons taking root in my grandson, Kyler, this past school year of kindergarten, along with what he is learning from family members. I witness my son teaching him how to greet others, shake hands, and say please. My daughter-in-law has imparted lessons in gratitude, insisting on thank yous and the concept of writing thank-you notes. I’ve watched my other son, wearing his uncle hat, coaching Kyler to express interest in the health/well-being of others, reinforcing a relinquishment of his childish egocentrism. Like other parents, it warms my heart to see my own children committing themselves to raising another decent human being for this world.
But, as we mold and shape the young people who will replace us, we also need them to see positive role models in the real world. I wish I could believe that 6-year-old Kyler will remember the man who for every day of eight years, unfailingly exhibited the class, grace and dignity that we want all of our children to emulate – President Barack Obama. It’s a sad reality that most parents today will want to shield their kids from our current president.
In fact, we may need to regularly adopt the “cup and cover” procedure – cupping the ears and covering the eyes of our children — as an increasing number of leaders spew statements of intolerance, hate, and violence. How will these kids ever learn to respect government if they must be protected from those who lead it? Yes, we should talk to them about it. But, how can parents logically explain their uncivil utterances and behavior as contrary to the values of most decent Americans, and, in the next breath, explain that they can get away with it because they are elected and re-elected by a majority of voters?
Since civility is truly the only currency that makes the world go round, is it really too much to ask our leaders to stop acting like Trump and show some respect and tolerance for others? Can’t they see that without it, we risk blowing up the planet? As I heard CNN Commentator Van Jones say, “Civility isn’t just some optional value in a multicultural, multi-state democratic republic. Civility is the key to civilization.”
So, for everyone’s sake, let’s all hold hands, stick together, and make America civil again!! Resist, resist, resist!