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Restoring America’s crumbling civility

| Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Even though I was just thirteen years old at the time, I distinctly remember being impressed by the statesmanlike behavior President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney displayed over the course of their campaigns. The demeanor of both men inspired me to explore politics on a much deeper level, to try to understand actual policy rather than viewing politics as solely a battle of personalities. Over the course of our nation’s relatively young life, we’ve witnessed a bloody and gruesome Civil War, several assassinations of presidents, deadly protests across the decades from coast to coast and a variety of other eruptions of violence motivated by extreme partisanship. While many of these examples are from generations ago, the health of civil discourse in this country, over the course of our lifetimes, has never been in worse condition. It feels like the relative peace of the 2012 presidential election — which radiated both from the candidates themselves and their supporters — is now unattainable.

Let’s take a look at some events that have unfolded in October 2018 alone:

Kaitlin Bennett, a Kent State University student who advocates for the right to carry guns on college campuses, “interviewed” liberal protestors at President Trump’s rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, on October 10th. Her catchphrase when responding to the people she’s provoked, and in reference to the gun she holds on her person, is, “You know I carry, right?” The alarming implication is that she’s going to shoot her counterpart on the spot. A liberal protester at the Erie rally threatened to throw Kaitlin on the ground and rape her, and some Twitter users said that they “can’t wait for her to die” and claimed that she should have been aborted.

On October 8th, Ted Cruz tweeted a video of liberals literally clawing at the doors of the Supreme Court, prompting the GOP to use #jobsnotmobs to motivate workers to vote in the midterm elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was told to leave a restaurant and also the country by a group of protestors on October 19th. On that same day, President Trump claimed that he had no regrets “at all” about praising Representative Greg Gianforte, who had body-slammed a journalist, at a campaign rally the night before. These comments came at the same time details about the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi were being uncovered, but the president wasn’t able to see the connection between his support for violent rhetoric toward journalists and Khashoggi’s death. He brushed it off, and said that situation was a “different world” and a “different league.” Once again, on that same (evidently eventful) day, a group of self-proclaimed “anti-communists” were filmed screaming at Nancy Pelosi, and banging on a door she and her staffers had walked through to avoid them. One of Pelosi’s spokespeople, Drew Hammill, blamed Republicans, saying they have stoked “the flames of incivility, intolerance and aggression.”

In a radio interview on October 9th, Rand Paul, who has been the center of politically motivated violence himself, said, “I really worry that someone is going to be killed and that those who are ratcheting up the conversation … they have to realize that they bear some responsibility if this elevates to violence” Keep in mind Paul is no stranger to acts of political violence; he was present at the baseball game where Representative Steve Scalise, and several others, were shot in June 2017.

On October 27th, Robert Bowers entered Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, killing eleven and wounding six worshippers, because a local nonprofit Jewish organization had assisted resettlement efforts for refugees in the United States. Over the course of the last week of October, pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats, including former President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That same week, a white man fatally shot two African Americans at a Kroger in Kentucky, after he was unable to enter a historically black church.

Looking at all of these events in conjunction, while incredibly exhausting, stimulates an essential conversation. Liberals with whom I’ve spoken have expressed that there’s a big difference between Mitch McConnell being told to leave a restaurant and extremists being motivated by our leaders to execute violence against marginalized populations. Some conservatives establish a similar tone of deflection for responsibility and perceive liberals’ faults as egregious. The fact of the matter, though, is that all of us are going to be involved in the fight for the soul of this country. It’s everyone’s duty as an American citizen to take some initiative to mend wounds, and everyone should engage in efforts to clean up the mess. This will involve introspection and reflection about the possibly toxic wings of the parties we’ve called home for years. It will involve dynamic conversation with people who don’t necessarily like us. But it’s the only way to move forward.

I refuse to stand idle as the nation spirals downward into chaos, manifested into violence against our neighbors. If you’ve taken the time to read this far, out of concern, curiosity or any other reason, I hope you agree. So what can we do? First of all, a self-promotion: Come to BridgeND meetings on Mondays at 5 P.M. in the McNeill Room of Lafun. Participate in the campus-wide Converge discussions being coordinated by Student Government and a variety of other organizations. Most importantly, approach conversations in class, with friends in your dorms, and even with strangers, in good faith. If our generation is able to cultivate the empathy that I believe we have a better chance of developing than any generation that precedes us, I’m confident we’ll be able to repair the damage we see today, as deep as it is, and eventually return to the relative peace we had not so long ago.

Kevin Gallagher is a sophomore Finance and International Economics major. He currently serves as BridgeND’s Vice Present. The viewpoints expressed in this column are those of the individual and not necessarily those of BridgeND as an organization.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at [email protected] or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

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