Seven more painfully long weeks and counting … if indeed the elections can be decisively decided that quickly after Nov. 8. My crystal ball and Ouija board are predicting some lengthy, ugly fights and court battles long after the last votes are counted.
It can be really tough to maintain your emotional and conversational equilibrium (especially on social media) when nasty, inflammatory rhetoric is as plentiful as Smoky Mountain fireflies in June.
Taking three deep breaths and a walk around the block often can’t defuse the anger and hurt about childish taunts and coarse discourse. Many of us will whimper, justifiably, “Oh, lordy, will this election cycle never end?”
No, I don’t agree with lots of what’s said or written. It’s way too easy to generalize, to believe that people espousing the other side of any political contest or governmental issue are always wrong, tone deaf and dumb.
You can think that if you want, but saying it out loud or in print is something else entirely.
That’s purely bad manners and worse politics.
Now, I absolutely support your right to disagree with me, even vehemently. But if you make an angry ass of yourself when you do it and insult me personally in the process, that’s just not acceptable. Ever.
What’s more important, you’re certainly not going to convince me that you’re right and I’m wrong. And isn’t that supposed to be the purpose of a discussion or argument?
What’s missing most in this election season are manners, politeness and the social niceties. That’s not the dreaded “correctness.” It’s common sense and courtesy.
We’re not supposed to be living inside a political cartoon, folks.
Today’s political arena feels like the matador and the bull. Both sides are strong and mad as hell, but only one is going to survive. In the meantime, a lot of very emotional blood could be shed.
It’s good to be passionate about politics, to care so deeply. Apathy is the enemy of democracy.
But passion without politeness can defeat the purpose.
As columnist Michael Gerson wrote in The Washington Post, “It is good manners that allow citizens to argue without coming to blows, and even to find productive compromise.” He called manners “practical rules for living together.”
Think about it: We elect someone to speak for us when we cannot, to represent us where we cannot be. That someone should be able to get our points across without insulting the listeners or others.
Let’s consider this in another framework: real life. Think about two of your high school buddies, or a couple of your friends from a decade or so ago. One was usually upbeat and positive, and if the conversation was serious, it also was mutually constructive. Your other friend was a Debbie Downer, forever complaining, shouting and being fist-poundingly angry. Nobody won.
Who did you most enjoy spending time with? Which friend were you most apt to listen to long enough for him or her to convince you, even a little bit, about a serious subject that could wind up really affecting your life, your family, your country?
And, cutting to the chase, which of those two people is still your friend?
But back to election season. Politics can take other unpleasant forms besides rude, nose-to-nose shouting matches.
For instance, don’t steal a sign from a neighbor’s yard, even when that placard endorses a candidate or philosophy you fervently oppose.
No matter how strongly you feel, swiping that sign is flat-out stealing, my friend, as well as being horribly bad manners.
Also, candidates and their supporters must follow rules about where political signs can be placed and how big they can be in different locations.
Don’t put a sign somewhere you don’t have permission to do so (on other people’s property, for instance, or on utility poles, sign posts or, especially, in road right-of-ways or other public properties). That’s not only bad manners, it violates county regulations.
So this, then, is my plea for sanity for the next seven weeks and, I would hope, far beyond.
Please do tell me what you think, who and what you support and why. But channel your grandma when you do so. Remember your manners. Then use them.
You just might convince me.
Manners in politics
“The thing that struck me, above all, at all these meetings, was the deep and earnest attention which the operatives paid to the discussion of political subjects. … From the absence of all such noisy demonstration as one is accustomed to at elections, it was very easy to mistake this for apathy. … But a little closer observation dispelled this idea. The earnest attention, the thoughtful remarks, the pointed questions put to the candidates, all convinced me that this was with them … an opportunity for hearing and expressing opinions upon matters of the deepest interest.”
The Spectator, Aug. 12, 1865