Barron: Civility in the Trump Era


By Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer

Civility is defined as politeness in speech and behavior; the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. The concept is not difficult, as we have all grown up on platitudes like Disney’s ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.’ But in our current political climate, members of both parties claim we need to re-establish civility in our national discourse. However, how can this be done when our leader belittles his critics through name calling and bald-faced lies? What role can civility play in American politics during the Trump administration?

Last Wednesday, Senator Bob Corker told reporters, “I think Sec. Tillerson, Sec. Mattis and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos.” I do not believe this statement violates the American ideal of civility. Our representatives not only have a right, and a responsibility to check the President not only through formal proceedings but also non-offensive criticism. However, President Trump’s retaliation was not in the spirit of civility as he tweeted false accusations and insulted his peer. Based on my reactions to many of Trump’s tweets, I can only imagine the frustration his Washington peers like Corker may feel as he seems to face no consequences for his reckless misuse of information and juvenile behavior. Therefore Senator Corker’s reaction, insinuating Trump had to be babysat by his staff, was understandable, but this zinging one-liner does not actually benefit our growth as a nation. While Mr. Trump is our country’s president, Corker and other private citizens do not have to engage with him on this platform. Nuanced conversations cannot occur in 140 characters.

The spreading of fake news in the United States had impacts on our democracy during the 2016 election. In fact, Facebook has turned over 3,000 advertisements purchased by Russian entities to congressional investigators. It is irresponsible of government officials to refer to media coverage they do not agree with as ‘fake news,’ and for them to share information they have not fact checked. While most of the investigation of fake news has been focused on pro-right propaganda, we must also acknowledge there has been fake news circulating which is pro-left. Misinformation is dangerous as it can inhibit empathy necessary to engage civilly with others.

I am from a house divided. My mother is a U alumna, my father’s Alma mater is BYU. She leans left while he leans right. She is a morning person, and he certainly is not. My family, with diverse ideology and personalities, has been forced to learn the art of agreeing to disagree. This does not mean we do not challenge each other’s beliefs, but we try to do so respectfully through thoughtful conversation. It can be uncomfortable, and I will be the first to admit these conversations can turn into arguments. But by trying to understand my family’s varied perspectives, I know my worldview benefits.

I received a letter in the mail from Orrin Hatch this past month in which he called for the restoration of civility into modern politics, claiming our democracy cannot survive without it. He believes ordinary Americans can begin healing our national rhetoric by speaking responsibly, carefully consuming media and connecting with others who have different opinions than us. I agree with Senator Hatch. By expressing ourselves and our dissent in ways which are not decisive, fact-checking the information we consume, and not allowing ourselves to be separated by party lines, we will begin to hold ourselves to a higher degree of civility, and then we can demand our leaders do the same.