“That night, I dreamed I came upon a Trump supporter who had died trying to repair an electrical outlet at the hotel. An angry mob approached, blaming me for the accident. Then I recognized the dead woman as a friend and fell to the ground and wept. The mob dispersed, and the dream ended.”
— Bruce Hagen, Petaluma
In my last column, I raised the question about how we could get past the contempt that is pervasive in our national discourse and enjoy, if not a rejuvenation of the Summer of Love, perhaps just a summer of civility.
The responses that I received, from all political persuasions, were thoughtful and creative if not always hopeful. They ranged from the sharing of a dream, (as noted above) to ambitious bipartisan endeavors underway in Washington and here in Sonoma County. My favorite was a concerted effort by two members of the steering committee of Santa Rosa Together — one who voted for Hillary Clinton and one who voted for Donald Trump — who have come together in an effort to seek a new path forward.
But before I share those responses, let me make something clear. This is not about acquiescence. This is not about stemming the rising tide of resistance to the current presidential administration or the outrage over the president’s personal conduct. Far from it. In fact, I find myself hesitant to even write again about the quest for civility just days after the president himself staked out new ground for incivility with his tweet attack against a talk show host who he said was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” during a visit to Mar-a-lago. Good Lord.
But that, sadly, is not likely to change. As one respondent noted, it was 18th century scientist William Curtiss who said, “It is useless and futile to try to change other people. The only person I can change is myself.”
So this is not about changing Trump. He is who he is. And he, too, shall pass. It’s about creating a better environment for how we all engage and work through our differences — if only to ensure compromise is still politically possible.
Unfortunately, compromise has become a casualty in this win-at-all-costs environment, and the result has been stagnation on a number of critical issues including infrastructure, tax reform and immigration and regression in others, including health care.
Independence Day is a good time to remind ourselves about how our founders weren’t always the models of civility. But our Constitution and, as a result, our nation, is the product of masterful yet hard-forged compromises between Anti-Federalists and Federalists — those who wanted a strong centralized government and those who favored stronger state autonomy. In many ways, these are battles that continue without respect for the fact that we all benefit from the concessions made long ago. So let’s stop pretending that compromise is synonymous with weakness rather than progress.
With that, here are some of the responses that I received.
Many said the key is encouraging people to get outside their bubbles and seek out information and people who challenge their assumptions. As Gayle Shirley of Santa Rosa noted, it’s “an inside job.”
“To move past the acrimony of our current discourse and move toward compassion, civility, and solidarity, we must each take personal responsibility to challenge our own thinking, beliefs, and behaviors,” she wrote.