- Bill Haltom is a writer living in Memphis and Monteagle.
Eight years ago in 2014, I wrote a book about politeness. More specifically, how civility embodied in the public life of the late great Tennessee Senator Howard Baker.
Senator Baker was a conservative Republican who believed in core Republican beliefs of the time, including a balanced federal budget, limited government, and a strong national defense. But he also believed strongly in something at the heart of his politeness. “My father taught me to always remember that other fellows may be right,” the senator recalled.
As President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, Senator Baker lived his life in controversial settings, including courtrooms, political campaigns, the US Senate, and the White House. But on all those occasions, he tried to understand the point of view of his opponents and, if possible, find common ground and solutions. Politeness, unity and teamwork were values he shared, even with his political opponents. He became known as the “great mediator”.
The prologue to my book is “An Uncivil Nation,” and how Senator Baker’s civic approach strayed from his political style in two decades of the 21st century, and bipartisanship and compromise came to be seen as weaknesses. was reflected. As a result, public governance was dysfunctional.
But unfortunately, in the years since I wrote that book, public life in our country is getting worse and worse. We went from rudeness to hate.
Our political leaders don’t just say their opponents are wrong. He is a bad man, they say, and he should be hated.
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From rudeness to hate
Hateful rhetoric was all over the place in the recent midterm campaign. Nancy When her House Speaker Pelosi’s husband was attacked by an intruder who beat her husband with her knife and fractured her skull, Republican politicians joked about it, criticizing the campaign’s partisans. Delighted the crowd.
Politicians on both sides of the congressional aisle portrayed the opposition as enemies of our country determined to destroy our democratic system. Some even suggested they would never. Concession speech, like compromise, has become a politically endangered species.
A politician’s hateful rhetoric can actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they convince their supporters that the other side is constantly lying and trying to rig elections, public confidence in our democratic system will be destroyed.
Hate speech politicians only reflect the hatred that pervades America. we are no longer together. We have become a polarized country and too many people hate people who have different points of view than their own.
So what is the solution to a country full of hate? Should we wait for Howard Baker-style leadership to return? It may come, but just waiting won’t do it. We, as citizens, must examine our own opinions and feelings and decide whether we want to share public life in our country and community. And if we decide that’s what we really want, we need to let our so-called leaders know how we feel.
Polls claim that we Americans strongly dislike negative political campaigns. But these ads run because politicians know they work. They work because they reflect what we really feel and believe, not what we say. When politicians believe that we really hate negative advertising and hateful campaign rhetoric, we discourage them from running those ads or making such hateful speeches. stop.
We must remember the advice provided by Howard Baker Sr. and taken to heart by his son. Remember that others may be right, try to find common ground, and compromise when possible.
If we do this, politicians may react and change a hateful America.
E Pluribus Unum.
Bill Haltom is a writer living in Memphis and Monteagle.