Don’t Let Civility Die
By Lisa M. Burwell
I recently mentioned to a colleague that I was writing about covering the presidential inauguration. I knew that a cautious approach was needed because of the dissension and upheaval that our country is currently experiencing. He smiled and said, “Then you need to write it from the moon.” An astute statement that is sadly true. The visual juxtapositions I witnessed during the forty-eight hours that I was in our nation’s capital were unprecedented and surreal. Seeing the new First Family with an unmistakable nod to a 1960’s Kennedy-esque White House, albeit a conservative one, and the impending Women’s March gearing up to take to the same streets the next day felt like we were all traveling back in time to the sixties.
Friday, January 20, 2017: The nation’s capital was permeated by cool temperatures and gray clouds, but it did not dampen the spirits of a crowd eager to witness President-elect Donald Trump assume the office of President of the United States of America at the fifty-eighth Presidential Inauguration. I expected security to be robust, but the gravity of potential danger really sank in while we were being funneled by armed militia through a maze of twelve-foot-high barriers that went on as far as the eye could see.
The tradition and rituals of the transfer of power were impressive. But a lack of respect and civility seems to reign supreme throughout our nation today, and it is occurring across party lines. When President Obama and the First Lady were introduced, jeering erupted from the crowd. And, of course, wild cheering filled the National Mall when Trump and his family appeared. I felt like I was sitting behind the uprights and watching as the visiting and home teams took the field. The mentality just didn’t seem appropriate for an inauguration—but maybe that’s just me. No matter your party affiliation, the fact that Obama led our nation to the other side of a two-term presidency without major casualty earns him respect, gratitude, and good wishes as he and the former First Family embark on the next chapter of their lives. The moment struck me at my core, and what I had just witnessed was an unfortunate foretelling of what was to come in the next days and weeks. Even amid all the angst of our divided nation, I was honored to have my feet firmly on the grounds of the National Mall to witness the swearing in of our nation’s new president. And, a thought occurred to me about how I could make a difference. I could pray.
While waiting for several hours to hear President Trump’s inaugural address, I hoped that he would have the wisdom of Solomon and that his speech would lead our divided nation toward peace and unity. The heightened rhetoric and fervent undercurrent from his campaign were still evident in his address. At one point he mentioned “one nation” and at another said, “…we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” As promising as these words are, the tenor of parts of the speech did not match the prose. Delivery really is everything. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
The visuals from the stately inauguration ceremony were soon to be eclipsed by the thunder of the Women’s March, which took place the following day. Over a million people converged on the same streets, predominantly in protest of the new administration’s desire to reverse Roe v. Wade and the disparaging comments and past actions toward women that Donald Trump had shown in the past. The quandary with the Women’s March platform is that it falsely conflates pro-choice and the historic court decision with the advancement of women’s empowerment and civil rights for all, including the LGBTQ community. Although I am not an antifeminist, I am pro-life. I hope that this decision can be considered separate from other civil liberties as I believe that grouping the abortion issue in with all civil liberty milestones that have been accomplished is a lie. The fear is understandable—that if one civil liberty is taken away, then other hard-won civil rights may soon follow.
Each side wants what they want. So how are we going to coexist? How are we going to love those who don’t agree with us? My hope in writing this is to foster communication and debate without hatred. My hope is to love those who disagree with me, and for my neighbor to afford me the same respect. When did good manners and kindness of speech toward one another go out of style? I must not have received the missive that being civil and cordial was no longer practiced as a societal norm in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. I understand that half of our country grew weary of the political establishment and wanted change, but harsh, crude discourse has seemingly become accepted behavior. There is no doubt that we are a divided nation—not since the Civil War has it been like this. The discord is on both sides, but something palpable has been ignited since the inauguration and Pandora’s box is wide open. To a certain extent, the new leadership won by being provocateurs and simply because they were apolitical and outliers, and because many wanted to see drastic change in our government. People want and need to be heard, understood, and belong, as shown in the fundamentals of Abraham Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs. Basic psychological needs are at play here, and to some degree the reason that so much unrest has been unleashed is because many people are scared and confused, with their sense of belonging seemingly turned upside down. Where do we go from here when half of our coworkers, brothers and sisters, and friends hold different opinions? Do we stop talking and start fighting? Apparently for many the answer is yes.
Seemingly overnight everyone became political, the battle lines were drawn, and we all had taken one of two sides—either as a Republican or as a Democrat. We were to be, from that day forward, known or defined by our political party affiliation first and foremost, which sounds frightening in and of itself to me. Our commonality as fellow Americans, friends, brothers and sisters, business colleagues, and (with boycotts abounding) even consumers no longer unites us. Fighting, quarreling, hurling insults, anger, protests, suspicion, and fear have taken center stage for many. I had hope on January 20 that somehow we would all get along again as we have with past presidential transfers of power, and I still do: the proverbial pendulum usually swings far to the left and then far to the right before finding its center. We need to share our feelings and beliefs and try to understand each other; only then can we evoke change. But, I also believe we must respect our leaders and learn to present our opinions to them without hate and contention. The hope is that our leaders will in turn respect us. Our voices still need to be heard. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are fundamental Constitutional rights that still need to be protected. Yet, the mantra of “love thy neighbor as thyself” needs to be at the core of our society’s ethos.
As I write this, barely a month has passed since President Trump has been in office but so much has happened—and continues to happen minute by minute. It’s been unsettling for so many, but for others, it’s what they wanted or believe is in the best interest of our county. No matter our differences, we can’t lose our compassion and civility toward one another. We need to listen and care about how others feel so we can understand each other. Many of our problems are so big and complicated that it will take the wisdom of Solomon and a miracle to realign our country so that we can all love and move in peace and harmony.
For weeks, all I have been able to say is “In the name of Jesus, God help us.” And you know that is really what we need, as man can’t help us. Please join me in praying for our nation. This is our country—we the people, by the people. So please pray for God to help us.
Love is still is the answer, so please don’t let civility die.