What’s Going On: A civilized government lacking in civility

What's Going On

South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford was hosting a town hall meeting at a retirement center when something happened the Republican lawmaker had never encountered in his 20-plus years of public service.

Amidst a discussion of our new president, two of the residents began not only shouting at each other, but swearing, dropping F-bombs like a couple hormone-filled teenagers.

“Literally, you had to talk these people down, and I’ve never done that before,” Sanford later recalled in an interview with the New York Times.

And remember, this was a retirement center. This wasn’t a couple “youngsters” or even middle-aged adults who maybe haven’t reached full maturity yet. These were grandparents. Retirees. Senior citizens.

“I think we have lost civility in our civil government,” Sanford would later say.

Congressman Sanford first made those remarks following an incident in late May in which Greg Gianforte, the Republican running for a vacant seat in the House of Representatives, assaulted a reporter for asking a question he didn’t like.

The incident, for which Gianforte faces criminal charges, had little impact at the polls as he would be elected the very next day.

However, interestingly enough, Sanford was making nearly identical comments Wednesday following the shooting at a baseball field in Washington D.C. where Republicans were practicing for a charity game.

This time, the attacker wasn’t a GOP congressional candidate but a Bernie Sanders-loving liberal armed with a rifle. But the similarity between the two criminals was their levels of hatred, disrespect and lack of civility guiding their misguided actions.

As Sanford so accurately stated nearly a month ago, this is what our society has devolved into: one with a civilized government filled with uncivility.

And let’s be clear, there is no one person, or group of people, or party responsible.

Newt Gingrich, the former Senator from Georgia, tried to blame Wednesday’s shooting on increasingly “violent rhetoric” from the left, but he is kidding no one despite the frequency of this chorus the past few days.

While the left now has a new “target” in President Trump for outrageous comments/displays such as Kathy Griffin’s recent photo shoot and the Shakespeare in the Park performances in which a Trump-look-alike is killed in a version of Julius Ceasar, they certainly aren’t entirely responsible for this inhospitable political climate that spurred Wednesday’s shooting.

Anyone with a Facebook account can recall scores of images and memes decrying the former president as anything from the anti-christ to a Muslim terrorist working to destroy America from the inside to realize disrespect is nothing new for the occupant of the Oval Office.

President Obama though, to his credit, always rose above that hostility directed towards him, employing grace, tact, and occasionally humor, when dealing with his critics.

Which brings me back full circle to the current Oval Office occupant, President Trump.

Despite Gingrich’s attempts to blame this entirely on one party, to absolve the current president from contributing to the current hostile political climate, would be absurd. During the recent presidential campaign, he mocked a fellow candidate for her appearance, ridiculed another’s spouse for how she looked, and called several others childish names … and those were all members of his own party. He encouraged violence against demonstrators, urging supporters to punch protestors in the face while offering to pay their legal fees should they be arrested.

Sanford also drew this correlation between the current hostile political climate and the leader of his own party in both interviews before and after the shooting.

In describing the retirement center incident, voters he said seem to believe “if the guy at the top can say anything he wants about anybody at any time, then why can’t I?”

While some have tried to cast blame on a particular party, or gun control legislation or lack thereof, or even the state of mental health treatment in this country, others have openly wondered if Wednesday’s shooting will provide an invaluable opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what we have become as a society.

We claim to be a society based on Christian principles, but we clearly don’t act like that when discussing politics and in that vein, maybe this incident will give us a chance to reconsider how we treat those with differing political opinions.

But I also agree with Mr. Sanford that this is also an opportunity for President Trump to show the kind of leadership skills we so desperately need right now and set that tone of reconciliation. Stay off Twitter, stop insulting opponents and naysayers, and stop referring to the media as “the enemy.”

Be a leader and be more than a president. Be a great president and start unifying the country instead of dividing it.

That would be … beautiful.

——

Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.

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