Monday was another national holiday, and another chance for President Donald Trump to offend a swath of the nation. He did not disappoint.
“Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today,” the president tweeted.
But then he went off the rails.
“Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!”
Putting aside the fact that Memorial Day is not meant to be happy, but a time to reflect on the sacrifices of generations of our war dead and the families that have mourned them, there’s a deeper problem here.
Many commentators and everyday Americans saw a politician trading on the memory of fallen warfighters to promote himself. It was another galling example of Trumpian incivility.
This is, after all, the era when a presidential candidate was elected even after being exposed for bragging about alleged sexual assault. But let’s get something straight: Trump is the symptom, not the cause, of incivility in America.
The proof is all around us. How many times have you walked past a stranger on the sidewalk without a smile, or a nod, or even simple eye contact? Even the produce section of the local grocery store is a hotbed of rudeness. Very few people say “excuse me” anymore, even when leaning over another person to reach for a head of lettuce.
We have a lack of civility and respect in America, and it’s making our other problems worse.
“A record high rate of Americans (75 percent) agree incivility in America has risen to crisis levels,” according to a 2017 report on the annual “Civility in America” poll.
Few people have hope that things will improve, either.
“Over half of Americans (56 percent) expect civility in America to worsen over the next few years,” the report stated.
If we can’t show respect in the grocery aisle, is it any wonder that we can’t agree on pressing national problems? It seems hardly surprising that as incivility has become commonplace, our political divisions have grown wider, too.
Among politically active Americans, outright hostility to people with whom we disagree has grown alarmingly, according to a recent survey of 10,000 Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Not only are we more strident in our disagreements, according to Pew we agree on fewer issues. Two decades ago, even party loyalists shared some overlapping views with their adversaries, but that has become much less common today.
“The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10 [percent] to 21 [percent],” according to Pew. “Ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished: Today, 92 [percent] of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94 [percent] of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.”
It goes beyond even disagreement; now it’s about our sense of safety.
“Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies ‘are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” the report stated.
Trump has benefitted from this trend, and exacerbated it. To some of his most loyal supporters, the president’s lack of civility – even when it comes to the sacred cow of military dead – is chief among his virtues. The more he “tells it like it is,” the more a contingent of his voters loves and defends him – and the more they feel emboldened to lash out themselves.
This is the danger we face. Civility – good manners as your grandmother would have described them – build and strengthen relationships by creating reciprocity. You hold the door for a stranger, he smiles and says thanks. It seems small, but practice that a few times a day, and the world seems not just friendlier but safer.
Forget the high-minded virtues of God and country, of freedom and the flag.
If we don’t care enough to say good morning to each other at work, or excuse me when we pass in a hallway, just what have generations of our veterans been fighting to preserve?