As of Friday, September 7, 2018
Facing his mortality, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) wrote, “Before I leave, I’d like to see our politics begin to return to the purposes and practices that distinguish our history from the history of other nations. I would like to see us recover our sense that we are more alike than different.”
It saddens me that this complex but honorable man did not get his wish. He leaves behind a party and government without a sense of civility.
Civility (from the Latin: “befitting of a citizen”) propels our collective drive to positively impact our community, and shapes our values, motivation and ability to make the difference. Decades ago, a noted scholar (Thomas Ehrlich) captured the concept beautifully: “A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own; such an individual is willing to see the moral and civic dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate.”
The current U.S. president attacks daily the fabric of civility that has made America a beacon of democracy and freedom. More than any legislation, executive order or judicial appointment, these attacks will define his administration. They pose a grave threat to who we are and to the world we live in. Politicians who enable him magnify the threat — as do all citizens who embrace divisiveness and misinformation over informed dialogue.
Absent civility, how will we hold America together as a powerful, distinctive and caring nation? How will families and communities prosper and achieve happiness and fulfillment? How will we even ensure the planet’s sustainability or a future for humankind?
John F. Kennedy memorably said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” It is urgent to meet his challenge by coming together around the principles of equality, freedom, respect and civil engagement that should define us.
This requires constructive action: To energize communities towards the common good, without prejudice or hatred. To democratically replace those in government who are brazenly destroying our national identity. To require that our elected representatives meet Kennedy’s challenge and McCain’s wish.
The Trump administration shall pass. The America that remains will be what we make it. Only a shared commitment to civility can create fair and boundless opportunities for all.
The challenges ahead are complex, their solutions nontrivial. But the outcome is still our choice. A choice we exercise by how we get informed, interact with others, react to issues facing community and country, and vote.
In November 2016, 44.3 percent of those eligible chose not to vote for president. That’s more than those who voted for the losing candidate (21.4 percent) and, even by a larger margin, the winning candidate (20.4 percent). I am not fond of the Electoral College, the archaic mechanism by which we elect presidents. But the Electoral College, acting as prescribed in the Constitution, is not responsible for the election outcome. Citizens are: Those who voted, and those who forfeited this essential right and responsibility.
The Nov. 6 mid-term election offers a “do-over” opportunity. In voting for Congress, we will be choosing who represents our districts and states. We will also be defining the country we want to be in decades ahead.
In Kennedy’s spirit, it is time to put country ahead of individual and party interests; to agree with McCain that we are more alike than different; to vote for a government unified around basic principles of constructive civil engagement. Neither disgust nor indifference justifies absenteeism. Every vote counts!
To vote wisely, we must remain informed, open to different perspectives and willing to dialogue. Only then can we hope for principled and pragmatic outcomes.
I am a non-affiliated voter. I believe that red-or-blue alternation of power is no longer productive or stabilizing, as Democrats and Republicans cannot consistently find enough common ground to legislate in a bi-partisan, sustainable manner. I would prefer a multi-party system. But I am pragmatic about the short-term choices.
This November, it is still mostly a red-or-blue choice. Because of its complicity with an unfit and disruptive president, the Republican Party has — on civility grounds alone — forfeited my vote for the foreseeable future. I will vote Democrat to help terminate Republican majorities in the House and Senate. This I deem the best (if imperfect) path to return to civility and, ultimately, to create a system where no party can govern with arrogance and disregard for the best interests of the American People.
Regardless of party affiliation, please put country ahead of self and dogma, and cast an informed vote for civility.
Antonio Baptista lives in Mt. Hood.