Where many of us grew up — and still, to this day — talking easily, comfortably, and courteously with one another is the way we resolve our problems. Especially at the state and local level, political leaders mostly recognize that they have a responsibility to respect the dignity of the people they’re bound to encounter on a regular basis.
This is not always easy. Civility takes discipline and patience. Especially when faced with incivility, the temptation is to lash right back. But aside from some kind of momentary satisfaction, it’s hard to see how this is an effective tactic if our purpose is to get things done.
Because in a democracy like ours, the key challenge is to foster a debate that respects all voices, even those of dissent and protest, and create an environment that enables the agreements we need to advance the common good. The future and the effectiveness of our representative democracy require that we get the balance between civility and dissent right.
The reassuring thing is that bringing this country closer to the political behavior that George Washington had in mind is not a matter of enacting laws or passing new regulations. It’s simply a matter of encouraging respectful behavior, one person at a time. If we can do that and reverse the course we’ve embarked on in recent years, then we can still show that a government of, for, and by the people works.