Opinions & Editorials

We lost civility during this election season


By Robert Jalon

Among the first things we are taught as children are manners such as proper greetings, not interrupting someone when they are speaking and being courteous to others.

The overall hope is that these are basic things we master by young adulthood. Unfortunately, both major party candidates in the 2016 presidential election seem to have forgotten these simple lessons.

This election is unlike any we’ve ever had as rules of decorum were thrown out the window and things got personal.

It’s been nasty and filled with anger, accusations and vitriol. The two candidates regularly call each other names and disparage the other’s character and loved ones.

The animosity runs so deep the two candidates couldn’t even shake hands before the second debate. One threatened his opponent with incarceration should he win.

Just when we think it can’t possibly get any lower, any less presidential, it does.

Supporters emulate their candidate of choice by spewing hate speech toward each other on social media, and violent exchanges have broken out at their rallies.

A poll conducted by Allegheny College on civility in American politics found that in 2010, 89 percent of American voters found commenting on another’s race or ethnicity out of bounds during a political debate. In 2016, the number dropped to 69 percent.

Kansas State University’s Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy and the National Institute for Civil Discourse conducted a joint poll that found the 2012 and 2008 elections had fewer instances of insults, questioning of character and name calling.

In contrast, they found the amount of interruptions went up in 2016, and other methods of what they call “unprecedented behavior” were included, such as “intimidation by crowding someone’s personal space and refusal to answer a direct question.”

Many fear for the worst, that we as a nation have lost our civility, grace and manners.

It never used to be like this. Elections and debates were the forum where both candidates put forth ideas and their best plan on how to move the country forward. This cycle, though, neither were serious affairs.

Although Nielsen Media Research reported that the three presidential debates and the lone vice presidential debate broke viewership records with 259 million viewers, people watched for all the wrong reasons.

They tuned in for the circus and the spectacle. America waited for that “thing” that everyone would be talking about the next day.

Never one to miss a chance to perform while on stage, the “thing” that the Republican candidate provided in the third debate was a highly controversial suggestion—he would not accept the outcome of the election if he lost and “keep us in suspense.”

His opponent responded by saying “He is denigrating—he’s talking down our democracy. And I, for one, am appalled that somebody who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that kind of position.”

Many from the candidate’s own party also condemned the statement. Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens said it was “the most disgraceful statement by a presidential candidate in 160 years.”

Rules exist for a reason. A concession by the losing candidate is made for a smooth transfer of power and is fundamental to a working democracy where the voice of the people is sovereign and the candidates work for us.

Although the Republican candidate has since amended his statement into accepting the outcome of the election, the dangerous precedent it may have set has made a letter from former president George H.W. Bush to his successor and the man who beat him in the ’92 election, Bill Clinton, go viral.

It reminded many of when there was civility and grace in politics.

Clinton found the letter of support waiting for him on his desk on his first day in office on January 20, 1993.

In it, the elder Bush wishes Clinton great happiness while in the White House. Bush says that Clinton would be “our President.”

The line “Your success is now our country’s success, I am rooting for you” must have been particularly striking to Clinton.

Despite losing, Bush clearly has the well-being of the country and all Americans in mind.

You would be forgiven for thinking that such gestures would never happen now. The 2016 election has turned into a fight between a “deplorable” and a “nasty woman.”

Hopefully former President Bush’s letter served to remind the victor that when the dust settles, be dignified and let healing begin by being “our” president. It would be a great example to follow, and it may lead to a more successful mandate.

America will have a new president-elect on Nov. 9, 2016. Hopefully the runner-up and we as a nation have the grace, manners and civility to accept it, no matter the outcome.

The Guardsman