On Setting an Example of Civility


This won’t be the first time we’ve called for civility in public life on this page. But, frankly, it’s the most depressing time. With candidates seeking the highest office in the land and less than two weeks before Election Day, it’s a little late in the game to be calling for a change in tone now.

Unfortunately, however, that’s where we are. And it’s as good a time as any not just to call for a change in this cycle, but to reflect on where we go from here.

You may have read the story on Page 3 of this issue about the Al Smith Dinner, where Donald Trump nearly got booed off the stage and Hillary Clinton went a little too far in a few of her own jokes, to see that this campaign season has pushed the American psyche almost to the point of a collective breakdown.

The dinner guests, ordinarily a respectful crowd, actually showed more common sense than the candidates. They didn’t hesitate to express their outrage, and they spoke for many who weren’t there when they did that. Their reaction was a reminder to the candidates that Americans are accustomed to appeals to our better selves, not to the lowest common denominator.

Certainly, there’s been tremendous interest in this campaign. But unfortunately it seems more like tuning in to see what happens next, sort of “rubber-necking” an accident. And every time it seems like things can’t go any lower, they do. 

We don’t want to single anyone out. At this point, most people have already made up their minds. And besides, there’s more than enough blame to go around. With neither of the two major-party candidates distinguishing themselves on the trail, we’re left with a largely dispirited electorate resigned to pulling the lever for the lesser of two evils instead of making an inspired choice for a leader they believe in.

And while there are no doubt true believers on each side, there also are many people caught in the middle wondering how we got here. And many wondering where we go next.

Well, here are some suggestions from two people whose views usually don’t mesh. First something concrete, from Mrs. Clinton, who got a healthy round of applause at the Al Smith Dinner when she said we need to find a way to make the campaign season shorter. We add our applause to that.

Then, a series of suggestions—reflections, actually—from the conservative-leaning columnist George Weigel on what he sees as underlying the “sickness in our political culture.” You can read his entire piece on Page 35 of this issue, but here’s what he thinks needs to change: A raw individualism that sees “freedom” as radical personal autonomy; a lack of commitment to the common good; the vulgarization of popular culture and entertainment; and the confusion of “success” with sheer wealth by individuals, businesses and corporate boards.

This is our idea: It’s time we started demanding more from those in public life. It begins with simple respect, toward each other, toward those they interact with and especially toward the American people they hope to represent.


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