Our nation’s Capital is supposed to be an inspiring place of grand ideas and magnanimous spirit. Today, though, what passes for debate more closely resembles a disheartening hotbed of moral ambiguity, political lethargy and childish name-calling in which compromise – once the hallmark of great lawmaking – is considered blasphemy.
We are witnessing an unprecedented race to the bottom, in which elected officials from both political parties are vying to outpace each other. As elected officials in Washington D.C. publicly and aggressively confront each other, it is important that we all recognize that this is not fake news; it is the tawdry reality of our politics today.
Radio and television bombard us around the clock with the latest vitriolic he-said, she-said from all points on the political spectrum – Democrats and Republicans, activists and analysts lobbing one political insult after another.
Social media, America's fertile new Petri dish of bickering and opinion, obscures the truth and shifts the incivility into overdrive, while the breathless media coverage of political bullying and name-calling eclipses substantive news on important policy issues like health care and foreign affairs.
This is disheartening to Americans hungry for news that matters. It also raises larger and more troubling questions about our nation’s political discourse in trying to meet the challenges of the modern world. We are left asking ourselves why the Senate’s leaders, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, seem incapable of talking to one another instead of at each other.
In such an environment, unflattering accounts of the President are the norm in our mainstream newspapers and national news magazines, while partisan publications promote flattering stories of angry and forgotten Americans.
Lost in all of this is any meaningful and substantive debate or discourse over how to address national policy, be it immigration, trade, health care or national defense.
Despite the best efforts of some members of Congress, the bare-knuckle infighting continues, led by too many who declare themselves the real bearers of truth. President Trump asserts that any unflattering news is fake news, hurling personal insults at his detractors while trying to undermine the credibility of the mainstream media. Democrats respond with a need to flex their muscles against his administration. Meanwhile, we learn of Russian trolls fueling the fire on both ends. The list of ugly and uncivil actions and statements goes on and on.
Where are the Republicans and Democrats who value principle more than politics? Partisanship has always been alive and well in Washington, but there was a time when there were enough great leaders who did not allow it to overwhelm the needs of our country and fellow Americans.
President John F. Kennedy following a tough election, shared the following on January 20, 1961 in his Inaugural Address:
"So, let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us."
He, like the late United States Senator John Heinz, understood that civility is at the root of legislative success and political longevity.
They understood that leadership — real leadership — is not bestowed upon members of Congress when they are elected. Rather, it is borne of strong personal values, grounded in respect for others and a commitment to placing what is best for the nation over what is best for oneself.
Civility and leadership are the fabric that holds our nation together. Divisive political rhetoric — regardless of its origin — rips that fabric to shreds. Our leaders must rise above personal and partisan agendas and work together.
I suggest a good place to start is to agree that truth and fact are critical to good governance and to our survival as a nation. Let’s remember that as the Turlock Mayor’s race unfolds.
As are good manners and basic civility.
Jeffrey Lewis is the President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment in Turlock Ca. He worked in Congress for three Senators – one Democrat and three Republicans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed here are his own and not those of the Foundation.