Finally, the alarms are going off in what is left of the rational GOP. The question is: is it too late? Has the party slept through earlier signals and bells, hitting the “snooze” button too often?
Okay, enough with the strained analogy.
Bill Brock recently wrote a “must read” column for the Washington Post. For young people and those with bad memories, Brock, from Tennessee, served as both a Representative and a Senator from that state, and for four years, was Chair of the Republican National Committee.
I am just as concerned about the destructive tone of the Trump campaign as I am about its demagogic content. How can you hear what someone else is saying, no matter how important, when you’re shouting? How can you bring people into a constructive search for solutions to our national problems when you do nothing but belittle them, and even suggest they are stupid, weak or corrupt?
A truly free society, one that gives its citizens the responsibility of participation, can function only to the extent there is civil discourse. We can engage in a mutual search for solutions only to the extent that we agree a problem exists. That can never happen unless we talk to each other, listen to each other and respect the fact that honorable people can reach different conclusions. When that sense of comity is missing, we are at risk.
Before readers dismiss Brock’s column as just one more heart-felt but ultimately feckless appeal for civility, I would call attention to an important paragraph in which he identifies the structural elements—what he calls “root causes”— that have brought us to this (very unpleasant) place in our national life:
Shouting is only part of it. There are also root causes. They include, but are not limited to, the ever-widening gap between our two parties caused by redistricting abuses and the undeniable sense that the election process itself is being swamped by unlimited and too often undisclosed funds from a select few. There is one more I fear — the too-often cable-TV-driven sense that only the dramatic, only the negative, only the ad hominem attack can garner sufficient attention to assure electoral success. The public disgust is palpable, and rightly so, but in a more fundamental sense, the results are disastrous.
Redistricting. Unlimited and unreported money. The rise of sensationalist, propaganda radio and TV.
We can and should do something about these causes of our political pain. It won’t be easy, but we need to move from today’s pervasive gerrymandering to nonpartisan redistricting. We need a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United, and far more transparency about political funding.
And–most difficult of all, but also perhaps most important–we need to reclaim what has been called the journalism of verification. We need a journalism that fulfills its constitutionally-protected function of acting as government’s watchdog, a journalism that is trusted because it has demonstrated that it is trustworthy.
Let’s take Brock’s wake-up call seriously—and hope that it isn’t too late to restore both civility and a government that functions.