Last Sunday, The Dalles Chronicle opinion page lamented “the loss of public manners, respect and basic civility,” calling it “appalling” and “scary.” The opinion rightly noted that “unstable people are spurred to horrific acts by hateful rhetoric,” and that “we need to stop the rabid ranting that is now permeating this nation.”
The opinion asked whether these were the role models that we wanted our children to emulate and concluded with these insights:
“At the heart of incivility is a complete disrespect of other people.…Good manners, whether meant genuinely or not, enable humans to live together in relative harmony. We cannot function together as citizens of the same city and country unless we are mindful of how we treat other people. Civility is the pursuit of the common good. It is the ability of someone to restrain him or herself out of the realization that other people deserve to be treated with dignity.”
Social media has enabled the masses to express unfiltered, disrespectful and negative opinions about everything and everybody. Yet just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
Self-restraint is a sign of wisdom, strength, and maturity. Defensiveness is the mark of a fool. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Proverbs 10:19. “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.” Proverbs 12:16
As a society, if we want civil discourse where people treat others the way they want to be treated, then we must do so ourselves and support leaders who do so.
We cannot support a candidate for public office who does not demonstrate decency and the fundamental character qualities we value most: integrity, respect for others, honesty, kindness, fairness, and self-control.
In 2016, we did just that, and as a nation we are now reaping what we have sown – a culture defined by lack of restraint and respect.
The man who said the following things (and worse) was elected as President of the United States by nearly 63 million American voters:
• “When someone attacks me, I always attack back...except 100x more. This has nothing to do with a tirade but rather, a way of life!” (Twitter, November 11, 2012)
• “Sleep eyes @ChuckTodd is killing Meet The Press. Isn't he pathetic? Love watching him fail!” (Twitter, July 12, 2015)
• “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” (Donald Trump during a Rolling Stone interview on September 9, 2015, referring to then GOP candidate Carly Fiorina)
• “I never attacked him on his looks and believe me, there’s a lot of subject matter there.” (Referring to Senator Rand Paul, Second GOP primary debate, September 16, 2015)
• ".@BenSasse looks more like a gym rat than a U.S. Senator. How the hell did he ever get elected?" (Twitter, January 29, 2016)
• "Did you ever see a man eat like this? ... It's pouring out of his mouth ... That's not presidential, I can tell you….He [Kasich] is a stubborn guy who eats like a slob.” (Trump Rally in West Chester, Pennsylvania, April 25, 2016)
• “If I were running ‘The View’, I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, I’d look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’” (Twitter, August 27, 2016)
Since becoming President, Mr. Trump has continued his Twitter tirades and personal attacks on the physical appearance and character of others, responding thus to criticism of his twittering:
• “My use of social media is not Presidential - it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!” (Twitter, July 1, 2017).
The editors of the Chronicle are right to be outraged at the lack of tolerance for dissenting viewpoints and the loss of civility in public discourse. However, we must acknowledge that it is our own president who has set the standard for this atrocious conduct.
For our part, when we “like” or otherwise respond to hateful, mocking, or “humorously” biting social media, we encourage and contribute to the culture of incivility.
Friends, we are better than that. We have the power to defeat the normalization of contempt by not becoming a willing or unwitting participant to it.
President Trump has said he is a Christian. Christians look to the Bible for wisdom and instruction on how to live, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, try to follow the example of Christ in word and deed.
I encourage our president to read his Bible and follow its guidance, including the example of humble, servant leadership demonstrated by his Savior and the timeless, God-given wisdom tweeted long ago by another rich leader:
• “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” Proverbs 17:27-28.
• “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” Proverbs 25:28
If he does this, President Trump may begin to understand what it means to be modern day presidential, and act like it. As for the rest of us, may we renew our commitment to civil discourse and living out the values we hold dear.
— Karen Feil Wilson is a local attorney and wife of Mike Wilson, a pastor at The Dalles First Christian Church.