In this season of poisonous politics, the House of Representatives has just cited the first African American Attorney General with contempt. Can they never pause in this vicious partisanship in order to do something useful for the people they were chosen to represent?
“So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness and sincerity is always subject to proof.” JFK
The call for civility should not be construed as a call for timidity. The wrongs that need righting require courageous opposition and forthright denunciation. The problems that need solving need bold thinking and determined action. This does not mean, however, that people who differ from us and who proclaim their disagreement candidly merit insulting or threatening or defamatory responses or characterizations.
Civility actually refers to a style and kind of behavior that is distinctly important in a Republic. It denotes the behavior characteristic of citizens who understand and fulfill this most precious and productive role. It makes the body politic a healthy and vigorous social reality rather than a malignancy riddled and lethargic denizen of a societal intensive care unit. In order to engage in the civil pursuit of a bountiful civic life we must be resolute in the identification and refutation of inaccuracy, illogic, defamation and deception. But even more than this, we must be determined practitioners of seven values that convincingly signal the things we care about and the causes for which we struggle.
These values are:
Unity – Fostering and sustaining concord among the citizens of our communities, states, and nation, in pursuit of liberty, equity, and prosperity for all
Self-Determination – Standing up and speaking out for the defining ideals of the American polity and setting congruent goals, launching effective initiatives, and keeping core promises implicit or explicit therein
Synergistic Efforts – Building and enhancing our communities, states, and nation together while solving problems and meeting challenges through concerted actions
Cooperative Endeavors – Developing and continuing our own styles, standards, and other processes and practices with maximum regard for mutual benefit
Purpose – Committing to building and developing the capacities of our communities, states and nation to restore our society to a condition of vibrant cohesion and shared abundance
Creativity – Doing resolutely as much as we can, in every way we can, to leave our communities, states, and nation more beautiful and beneficent than we found them
Commitment – Believing with firm conviction in ourselves, our forebears, our compatriots, our leaders, and the rectitude and success of our quest for a more perfect union
These values must not be mere words, but the code we live by. They must define the causes we champion and invigorate the people we fight for.
In the resolute exposure and repudiation of mistakes, fallacies, and chicanery, moreover, we must not engage in fallacious reasoning and devious propagandizing ourselves. The choice to be civil and behave, as citizenship in a Republic requires is one we make because we are committed to keeping the Republic bequeathed to us by the Founders and the Framers. It is something we have a duty to do and is not contingent upon the good faith of those who would make themselves our opponents. To paraphrase JFK, “Let us never fear to contend and campaign, but let us never contend nor campaign to instill or sustain fear.”
There is no place in the political discourse of a healthy and vibrant Republic for triviality, threats, trickery, and the tactics of personal destruction. May the vigor of the values inspire each of us to be better than we have been and empower all of us to be the best our pooled abilities, efforts and other resources can possibly achieve. The society we save and the future we build will then truly be our own. The Republic is a continuing endeavor; it is neither a monument, nor a shrine, nor a mausoleum. By embracing and enacting these seven civil values, we can ensure that our endeavor is one that builds and sustains a bountiful social reality for our compatriots, our children, and ourselves. We, the people, must sing out for the practice of these civil values by our elected and appointed officials. We are neither pawns nor puppets. They must quit playing games and pulling dirty tricks. Those in positions of power must come together and lead people to the achievement of our constitutional purposes. Can they hear the people sing?
“When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
Will you give all you can give
So that our banner may advance
Some will fall and some will live
Will you stand up and take your chance?”