Civility is needed from both ends of our toxic political spectrum

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“Today we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation’s promise through civility, courage, compassion and character.”

Those words, from George W. Bush’s 2001 inaugural address, strike a sad note in today’s America. It’s painfully obvious our nation has failed to achieve “civility, courage, compassion and character.”

Our nation’s grand incapacity for civil and sane discourse was highlighted this week by the sending of crude explosive devices to key Democrats and outspoken opponents of our current president.

To his credit, Trump managed to “be nice” and called for national unity and civility Wednesday night. I applaud the president for advocating civility.

But then the president deflected blame for uncivil discourse and political violence onto one of his favorite targets, bemoaning the “endless hostility” of the media.

Truth and hostility are not synonymous, Mr. President, and if they seem so … well, maybe that’s worth a little self-reflection.

There certainly is an issue of hostility between this president and a free press — and it flows from the president’s lips and thumbs.

In his first 644 days as president, Trump criticized the media at least 500 times on Twitter, including 314 tweets of “fake news,” attacking any expression of a free press that doesn’t obsequiously advance his agenda and stroke his ego. He’s repeatedly denounced the media as the “enemy of the people” at campaign rallies, and no fewer than 10 times on Twitter — one of those coming several days before five journalists were killed in Annapolis.

Just last Thursday, as details of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder were surfacing, our president applauded Montana congressman Greg Gianforte for attacking a reporter in 2017, saying “any guy who can do a body slam, he is my type!”

Yes, we know your type, Mr. President. And yes, by all means, let’s “stop the endless hostility.”

Mr. Trump’s call for an end to hostility is good. But, we can’t ignore the fact that he’s built his entire persona and his political fortunes on being anything but civil.

The man’s Twitter archive contains more than 900 references to other human beings as “loser,” “dumb,” “stupid,” “weak” or “dopey.”

In Donald Trump’s lexicon of civil discourse, immigrants are repeatedly demonized as drug-carrying, crime-ridden, gang-affiliated rapists — animals. NFL players who kneel are sons-of-bitches who should be fired, or maybe don’t belong in this country at all. Immigrants from the Caribbean, Latin America or Africa hail from “****hole countries.” A political opponent such as Maxine Waters — one of the targets of this week’s explosive-laden packages — is “an extraordinarily low IQ person.”

The sheer glut of such comments by Trump, and the fact that he’s our president, underscore the importance of his words and the gross hypocrisy of his self-serving call for civility. But, it would be erroneous to pin our nation’s toxic political culture entirely on Donnie.

In February, the president’s daughter-in-law received a suspicious package with a threatening note and white powder (corn starch, it turned out). Actual harm was caused when someone firebombed the GOP headquarters in Orange County, N.C. in 2016. And all of the hateful idiocy of resurgent white nationalists is mirrored and exacerbated by Antifa — who are more likely to attack journalists, police and innocent bystanders than any actual fascists.

Hillary Clinton famously, and condescendingly, called half her opponents “deplorables.” She still can’t figure out why people don’t like her, though. And, any cursory review of unsocial media yields just as many hate-memes, half truths and outright lies from the left as from the right.

The extremes of both ends of our dysfunctional political system, aided in no small measure by Russian bots playing both ends of the field, have yielded a morally defunct culture in which the value of human life and the meaning of truth are entirely relative to political expedience.

This tendency to dehumanize for political gain is growing clearer with each step the Honduran refugees take closer to our border. Newt Gingrich has taken to calling the caravans “an invasion,” and hosted a Facebook Live session Monday titled “the #caravan attack on America.”

Their lives are worth only what one side or another can gain from them.

Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser, described the caravan as “a political gift,” according to the Washington Post. His only regret about the whole deal — that Republicans hadn’t thought to vilify them more.

“I wish they were carrying heroin,” Bennett said. “I wish we had thought of it. It speaks to the dearth of our creativity, unfortunately.”

Flippant comments like that are latched onto by those who actually believe all the invective being slung about, and when true believers feel called to defend that invective, people’s lives suddenly are put at risk.

Whether it’s someone sending pipe bombs to politicians, or members of our own community advocating that unarmed civilians be shot at the border, our toxic political discourse is yielding dangerous fruit. There is one quote from our president with which I wholeheartedly agree. “No nation can succeed that tolerates violence,” Trump said at a rally Wednesday.

Those are good words, Mr. President. I pray he, and we all, can come to live, rather than just speak, those words.

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