After a day spent celebrating our independence, it’s worth noting that civility does still matter in this country, no matter what we are told daily by the screaming heads on both the left and the right who so frequently dominate the conversation.

Civility matters in politics because it still matters in our day-to-day interactions with our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers, and the loss or degradation of civility in politics affects our day-to-day lives as well. The more difficult it becomes for each of us to tolerate differing points of view and engage with those with whom we disagree, the more difficult it becomes to be kind to strangers or accept kindness from them.

The American Revolution was ultimately successful not just because our country won hard-fought victories against a numerically superior enemy on the battlefield, but also because after those victories, we were prepared for independence. We were ready for self-government because we already had a long-established civil society, including local government, a judiciary, state militia and civic organizations. Much of the Declaration of Independence is a list of grievances against King George III specifying ways in which he violated those longstanding cultural norms. Now it’s up to us to make sure we uphold the legacy of the Revolution rather than emulating the tyrant our founding fathers were rebelling against. Part of that necessitates a recommitment to civility in politics and in government.

Civility should not preclude disagreement or division; we shouldn’t feel a need to suppress opinions (ours or anyone else’s) in order to remain civil to one another. The famous admonition to avoid talking politics or religion is true to a certain extent, but it should be taken to mean that there’s a time and a place for such discussions, not that they should always be avoided. It also doesn’t mean that protests or even civil disobedience are completely off the table, just that they ought to remain generally peaceful and nonviolent. When protests become violent, it dilutes the message of the protesters – just as a government is delegitimized when it responds violently to peaceful protests.

If you do happen to run into an elected official you disagree with in public and want to share your views, it’s best to do so politely and give them a real chance to respond. Elected officials can’t expect to be off the clock when they’re out and about, but in a stable democracy like the United States, they can expect to be treated respectfully. By doing so, you make it more likely that they will listen to your opinion and seriously take it into account. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s a better strategy for getting your views heard than simply berating someone.

Your political opponents being mean and nasty toward you doesn’t mean you ought to respond in kind, either. In doing so, you not only (however inadvertently) acknowledge their attacks as legitimate, but also lower yourself to their level. That makes it harder for those who might otherwise sympathize with you to rally to your side as a victim; the conflict often ends up being perceived as a wash, no matter which side started it or was more negative.


One way we can become more positive toward each other, even those with whom we disagree, is by avoiding being wrapped up in whatever controversy of the day has been ginned up by the press and on social media. Although these stories are compelling, they serve only to increase political tribalism and drive us further apart as a country. Moreover, they make it harder for all of us – consumers and producers of news alike – to separate truly important events that should be covered from meaningless nonsense. It then becomes easier for the powers that be to get away with real corruption, as the public begins to see each scandal only in terms of whether it’s good or bad for their side.

A lot can be accomplished in this country if both sides take a step back from the endless sniping to actually listen to one another for a change. If we sit down with one another and have real, meaningful discussions about serious issues, we might even be able to find we have more common ground than we think. That would be a good way for us all to ensure that the Revolution wasn’t fought in vain and remains a success for future generations.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel

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