There has been much discussion lately about the role of Republican President Donald Trump in the incivility that hovers like a dark cloud over our country.
However, a recent nationwide poll shows that incivility was a problem long before Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, though he certainly hasn’t helped the problem.
Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, in partnership with KRC Research, began its annual Civility in America poll in 2010, five years before Trump’s entry into national politics. That year, 65 percent of Americans thought incivility was a “major problem.” The most recent poll in December 2016 found that 69 percent of Americans felt that incivility is a major problem.
It would seem that something more systemic and entrenched in American society is responsible for the increasingly sad state of life in America. My guess is that incivility has its roots in the corruption that led to the collapse of Wall Street and the worst depression in 100 years. The government stood by and then failed to prosecute financiers who looted middle class pensions and savings. The situation today is not much better. Our economy is increasingly dominated by predatory monopolies and tax averse multi-national corporations. The entire U.S. news media is owned by 15 billionaires who benefit from the status quo. Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic killed an estimated 64,000 Americans in 2016.
There are distressing signs that incivility is crossing the line into low-level violence.
In recent weeks, members of Trump’s administration were accosted and asked to leave public dining establishments.
Maxine Waters, a Democratic member of the U.S. Congress from California, subsequently exhorted citizens at a rally: “If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. You push back on them. Tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere!”
Now she is getting death threats.
Protest is one thing but psychological harassment is quite another. Harassment is a widely recognized form of violence and, in some circumstances, represents criminal behavior (i.e., stalking, menacing, cyberstalking).
According to the Weber Shanwick poll, nine in 10 of those polled said that incivility leads to intimidation and threats (89%), harassment (89%), discrimination (88%), violence (88%) and cyberbullying (87%).
As far back as the 14th Century, it has been recognized that for democracy to operate in a healthy manner, citizens must act in an ethical and respectful way.
According to the Online Entomology Dictionary, the word “civility” comes from the Latin word “civilis,” which means “relating to a citizen, relating to public life, befitting a citizen; popular, affable, courteous.”
To be a good citizen in these difficult times, it may be unrealistic to expect people to be affable and courteous. But we should demand that they refrain from physically accosting and harassing public officials, regardless of how misguided and inept these officials are.