Leaders are often trained that civility is an essential tool in the art of persuasion. But is there a point at which, for certain audiences, assuming they want to dialogue and are open to change is a waste of time? Let us know what you think of this column on a related topic, reposted from the Sunday, August 22, 2022 Waco Tribune-Herald.
STOP ASKING ME TO BE CIVIL. PLEASE.
by David R. Schleicher
I’m done with opinion page pieces here and elsewhere — the ones that urge me not to give up on Trump voters, to assume the very best motives of those on the other side of the political equation, to make sure “both sides” are welcomed.
Such urgings are a waste of words in a country in which a significant number of people will, given the chance, overturn any election returns they don’t like. In which a state government will gladly force a 10-year-old rape victim to carry a child to term while hindering her access to certain literature and history lessons that might otherwise broaden her mind. In which an extremely conservative member of Congress is deemed too liberal purely because she’s seriously bothered by an attempted coup involving efforts to lynch the vice president for bowing to the U.S. Constitution rather than his boss. Some of these same folks were preaching absolute fidelity to the Constitution only a few years ago.
Well-intentioned admonitions for us all to “just get along” inevitably seem to come from the left side of the political spectrum and are directed at others on the left. If someone has seen a recent column from the right urging their comrades to be more civil, please send it to me. Instead, even formerly rational friends who’ve moved further rightward suggest we might be on the brink of civil war. They say so not as a call for calm but with more of an indulgent, “isn’t-that-interesting” tone behind it.
One can only imagine the glee that must be felt from Moscow to Beijing, from Tehran to Pyongyang, as one-third of Americans ready themselves to burn their own country down while another segment urges we make sure to all take turns speaking gently in an effort to reach consensus. How easy it would be for one of these foreign powers to walk in and take over after our second civil war.
Make no mistake: American democracy will survive only if saved by a coalition of liberals, progressives, moderates, old-school conservatives, former Republicans, self-identified (and genuine) independents and, yes, some among those who ordinarily lean Republican. Civil discussion and efforts at persuasion among all these groups are essential.
The importance of the outcome for America means we also dare not write off a voter solely based on an assumption that their ethnicity or geographic location or economic status means they’re unpersuadable. Kudos here to resilient Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke for bravely continuing to visit “red” counties across our state, taking questions from those who support him — and, yes, some who do not but earnestly want to hear more. Consider the 45 percent of those identifying as Republican or leaning Republican who a Pew Research poll found “somewhat” or “strongly” disapprove of overturning Roe v. Wade to the point of turning women into second-class citizens.
Meanwhile, your cousin or high school classmate who wants to argue with you online about how Trump is the country’s only hope can at most be persuaded to support Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis instead — in other words, a smarter, more cunning, less bouffanty version of The Donald. Anyone still flying a Trump flag or sporting a Trump 2024 bumper sticker at this point is not going to aid you in rescuing the country from the brink of disaster. Don’t waste your time trying to persuade or reason with them. Not even a minute.
Nor should anyone delude themselves that many of these so-called “patriots” wouldn’t — given another chance — burn down the U.S. Capitol, hang Mike Pence and violently drag Nancy Pelosi down the stairs by her ankles. Save civility for those who want to discuss whether Person X or Person Y should be elected president, not whether an election loss justifies a bloody effort at a coup, including beating up the very police officers one pretends to respect and cherish. Has there ever been a dictator who saved some from persecution for having only fought him cordially?
So, please, no more preaching to the choir. Quit telling me how to be hopeful for, and obsequious to, the Trumpers, at least till they demonstrate some heartfelt reciprocation, including acknowledgement of basic facts and fundamental American principles.
So long as their fears are inflamed by dubious facts fed to them by their news networks on weekdays and their ministers on Sundays, they will not be saved from authoritarianism or nationalism, however it is packaged. Let’s delay the holding of hands and singing of “Kumbaya” until after their civil war.
David Schleicher, a local attorney whose clients include federal law enforcement officers, is a former chair of the McLennan County Democratic Party. He was a Republican until age 30.