A dialog on civility

George Caleb Bingham - The County Election, Wikimedia Commons

George Caleb Bingham – The County Election, Wikimedia Commons

We all want a civil society, but what does civility actually mean when describing today’s bombastic rhetoric to each other.

No matter which side, liberal or conservative, one can easily find comments on the internet that show no desire to find common ground, and remaining cordial is a useless exercise to some.

We have all seen it.

There is so much anger today, and finding ways to extinguish that fire can seem to be a daunting task for anyone that believes that we will have to find ways to work together, to move forward.

Unfortunately, it appears there are some that believe the fight is worth fighting, and being civil is needless and unwanted. Their efforts extend to trying to eradicate the opposing political parties views.

We are in a new kind of civil war that is dividing family and friends. This has become more prevalent since so many have turned to Facebook to air their differences. 

The new norm is an us versus them mentality, if you will. Winning this fight has gotten everyone so worked up, that I wish everyone would take a collective deep breath to see how we are talking to each other, and to find ways to heal the wounds that have been inflicted.

What is not seen or heard though is the fact that there are many that think politics is not worth losing friendships with their family and friends, so they go underground with their beliefs to keep the peace. I am in between. I believe strongly in my political ideals and I want to be able to express my values without fear, but I have lost friendships too, and I have become tame compared to some.

In my community, I have totally different political values to many, but I grew up in the same environment that they did. I know the same people that they do. I went hunting at a young age, like many, and went to the same churches, festivals and events. I am a part of the community and the community is part of me, as it is with them.

Sometimes, I feel they can be hard-headed and refuse to back away from their positions, but I find that I am just as adamant about my own positions. The difficulty is if they get into a huff, they just walk away for good, and let me tell you, they have long memories.

I have learned that I have to be very diplomatic when talking to my friends, and I know there are some people you just can’t reach, but I do believe it is possible for them to at least accept that my ideals should be on the table and not disqualified out of hand as so often happens today. At the same time, I don’t want them to think that I am discrediting their thoughts as well.

Because of all of the heated rhetoric, I understand what it means to feel like a stranger in my own community, and that I am only tolerated, because I was born here. I know that this isn’t true, but the feeling is the same. The ground beneath my feet still feels like home though, and nothing will persuade me to think otherwise.

One fact still remains the same, I am just as much an American as any other, no matter my beliefs. But is the fight worth it?

Being from Kentucky, the Hatfield and McCoy feud comes to mind. The fight between them lasted for generations, and back then, they could have never envisioned a day when they wouldn’t be fighting, but today, they only battle each other to see who can bring in the most tourist money for their communities. Their feud has faded away.

Will this feud that we are in today, that is causing so much incivility and harm, do the same? I hope so.

 

The Overview Effect

Astronauts return to earth with a message that makes everything down on earth seem small.

They want to tell us about a new way of thinking. The ‘Overview Effect’ is what they call it, and when one understands, they will have a new perspective for everything that happens down on earth. With this new way of seeing things, all of the divisive discourse and hyper-partisanship in our country means little when it is seen that we are all in this together.

Planetary Collective created this short film, and I think it’s a message more people need to see and hear:

On the 40th anniversary of the famous ‘Blue Marble’ photograph taken of Earth from space, Planetary Collective presents a short film documenting astronauts’ life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from the outside – a perspective-altering experience often described as the Overview Effect.

The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.

‘Overview’ is a short film that explores this phenomenon through interviews with five astronauts who have experienced the Overview Effect. The film also features insights from commentators and thinkers on the wider implications and importance of this understanding for society, and our relationship to the environment.

A liberal dissident in Republican lands

Flood wall mural of the Market House from yesteryear and it is still in existence today in Paducah, Kentucky. (Photo by John Cashon)

In my neck of the woods, if I believed that I could not be friends with any Republican because of their beliefs, then I would have no friends. Friends that shared adventures with me, shared their stories with me, and most importantly, their time. Friends that were there for me when I needed them most, which I still do sometimes. How could I ever think that way?

Reading the comments on local news boards throwing hyperbole and hate at each other, like a messy food fight where everything is rotten, and seeing all the people fussing at each other on television with nothing to show for it and nothing being resolved, I can see how one could believe an answer can never be found. An endless game that continues to bring ever increasing profits to the media outlets. In other words, it’s big business.

Hostile crowds scream and protest the other sides values, demonizing them to the electorate and trying to show their lack of patriotism and morals, while questioning their need to have a voice altogether. Family members grow bitter towards each other and co-workers ostracize opposing viewpoints. A nationwide intervention is needed to reduce this division and hate.

All the while, everyone is forgetting those times in our nation’s history where we stood together or died fighting for our freedoms. Bigger issues were dealt with in the spirit of unity and community, and where great events were shared by a proud nation, when everyone remembered that most important lesson of all, we were all Americans.

It goes on and on daily if you have the stomach to watch, but the drumbeat continues showing only the differences and conflict. There comes a time when the game will have to be exposed and for everyone to just take a breath and relax for a second. If it seems bad now, it was probably worse at another time in our history, even though one politician or another would tell you differently.

Watching politics today is like following the intrigue of the ‘Game of Thrones‘ on HBO. The tactics and strategy overwhelm every thought of every player in the grand campaign of our political institutions. It consumes morals and good will to each other, eliminating the common bond that holds our communities and nation together. In today’s political climate, it is the game that counts the most and not the people, and Machiavelli would feel right at home.

The Market House today in Paducah, Kentucky. There were originally three Market Houses built on the same spot. The first was built in 1836 and it was a log structure. The second was built after the original burned, and this was used as a hospital after the Battle of Paducah on March 25, 1864. The third, the one seen here, was built in 1905 and ceased to be a market in the early 1960’s. It took a community for this site to be in continual operation since 1836. (Photo by John Cashon)

A game that draws fans to both sides and appears to be fun for a time while venting differences at each other and winning or losing debates. Most debates continue on and on without one side or the other able to land that final rebuttal that will quiet them into agreeing. At some point, the debate has to end and compromise begin. When we cannot come together in our own communities, how can we expect our politicians to do the same for the purpose of governing?

It appears the politicians have watched and learned that when the tempers flare and partisan rhetoric flows, it is easier for them to continue with their need to win the ultimate battle. Stoking the fires within their base by creating a fear of the other side winning, so visceral, that the only answer is the complete destruction of the other political party. This is the goal that is most highly prized. Complete power of one party in the government institutions.

Moderate voices from both parties have lost the ability to appeal for reasonable debate using common sense and compromise, but the extremes have decided that it would be much easier to use their influence and money to remove those moderate voices from the argument.

I hear this anger directed at me where, in the past, it did not exist, and I see the distrust in their eyes. Gone are the days when my political views were tolerated and the conversations were a good-natured banter, but I have faith this will be only a short-lived period of disagreement. Our country has had plenty of times when events caused ripples in the water of the pond, but, with patience, the water has always calmed, over time.

I am a liberal dissident in Republican lands, but I have learned to accept the fact that most of my friends are Republicans in my community, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I am proud to call them my friends and perhaps that is what our country needs the most, patience for each other and possibly, a pride in the fact that we are all Americans even if we do have differences.

Government of the People, By the People, For the People

Teddy Roosevelt in uniform Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-94051

Teddy Roosevelt in uniform Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-94051

It seems that we are going through another cycle of history. With unlimited amounts of money being injected into politics, this could be one of the most important events of this decade, and possibly future decades, if rational minds cannot expose what is happening. Getting the big money out of the elections including those associated with both the democratic and republican parties will only bring a more pure democracy.

Remembering what Abraham Lincoln said, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”, I find this one quote from the Gettysburg Address explains what real democracy can be. Not the power that wealth brings with astronomical donations of money and television ads from all the special interests groups, but the power of each individual voter.

Doesn’t a corporation include just single individuals from the top to the bottom? Will each person vote exactly the same within that organization? I wonder how an organization can be considered one voice for every single person working for that organization. If each one of these special interests organizations is allowed to spend unlimited money on elections, then where does each individual stand with their own ability to raise money for their candidate?

Why should my vote depend on how much money I have? This is not rational to me. So this government of the people, by the people, for the people, that we pride ourselves in for its actual realization of a truly free nation, is dictated by money in its elections to control the message. The message that I am hearing from the media is only partisan politics and I don’t want to believe the rhetoric from both sides anymore. I just want the facts and the message should be the truth and not bought like some commodity on the stock exchange as we see today with the meteoric rise of negative attack ads paid for on television.

In this system of elections today, I can donate, let’s say, $100. I would feel good that I contributed to my party but then I hear about one large group contributing millions of dollars to the other party. Would that be a waste of my money? I don’t have a lot to give and there is recession going on too. I guess I will have to trust that some group that favors my ideas about bringing jobs back to the United States will donate to my cause. What’s this? The corporations, who have the most wealth, can invest unlimited amounts of money in the elections. What about my vote? My vote counts as much as a Wall Street banker CEO.

Watching the television, there have been so many despicable and appalling political commercials aired in the past elections. Some were telling me how one of the candidates was “Taliban Dan” and another was saying that she was not a witch. Is this informing the electorate or entertaining them?

Oftentimes I see that people begin to believe these commercials and I consider the millions of dollars being spent on them. I finally understand that my voice isn’t being heard. People’s minds are being made up, not by looking at what the candidates stand for but for what the commercials are telling them about the opposing candidates. The discourse is not civil and is just too exhausting to want to dwell on such negative things.

It is easy to understand why so many people have lost their enthusiasm for the elections and choose not to vote at all.

We have seen before how big business went against the majority of Americans for financial gains in the past. Here is an excerpt explaining Teddy Roosevelt’s fight against Big Business Trusts from U.S. History.org:

He believed Wall Street financiers and powerful trust titans to be acting foolishly. While they were eating off fancy china on mahogany tables in marble dining rooms, the masses were roughing it. There seemed to be no limit to greed. If docking wages would increase profits, it was done. If higher railroad rates put more gold in their coffers, it was done. How much was enough, Roosevelt wondered?

Teddy Roosevelt used the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was passed in 1890, to help with his fight against trusts. For twelve years, the Sherman Act was not effective because the United States courts routinely sided with business. For example, in an 1895 ruling, the Supreme Court refused to dissolve the American Sugar Refining Company that controlled 98 percent of the sugar industry, which allowed them to maintain their monopoly.

John Pierpont Morgan Wikimedia Commons

John Pierpont Morgan Wikimedia Commons

In fact, the only time the Sherman Act was used was when the court ruled against a trade union that it said was causing a restraint of trade.

Roosevelt decided to go against one of the biggest industrialist of the time, J.P. Morgan. Morgan owned a railroad company known as Northern Securities that controlled the bulk of railroad shipping across the northern United States.

When Morgan and Roosevelt met after the notification of the court case, Morgan decried that he was being treated like a common criminal. Roosevelt stood up to Morgan and declared that no compromise would be found and that the matter could only be settled by the courts. U.S. History.org continues:

This was the core of Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership. He boiled everything down to a case of right versus wrong and good versus bad. If a trust controlled an entire industry but provided good service at reasonable rates, it was a “good” trust to be left alone. Only the “bad” trusts that jacked up rates and exploited consumers would come under attack. Who would decide the difference between right and wrong? The occupant of the White House trusted only himself to make this decision in the interests of the people.

On December 2nd, 1902, Teddy Roosevelt declared in his State of the Union address:

“Our aim is not to do away with corporations; on the contrary, these big aggregations are an inevitable development of modern industrialism, and the effort to destroy them would be futile unless accomplished in ways that would work the utmost mischief to the entire body politic. We can do nothing of good in the way of regulating and supervising these corporations until we fix clearly in our minds that we are not attacking the corporations, but endeavoring to do away with any evil in them. We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to subserve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth.”

We have a progressive President in office but it seems no one is remembering our own history today about a time when corporations went unchecked. It is just as pertinent today as it was then. The American dream is for all us and not just those that can purchase the agenda of the country. They want everyone to lose interest in the elections and not vote. Then while the rational people don’t vote, they can get radical fringe groups out to the polls by pandering to them in the campaign ads but we, the rational majority, will finally have to stand up and see what is happening.

Eventually, the corruption in elections will get so bad that change will occur again and election reform will happen. The question is how long? Will it be this decade, the next decade or generations? I can only hope and believe that the government of the people, by the people, for the people will remember and believe it is their single vote that matters and not the money that makes a true democracy.

Rhetoric of our fathers: the election of 1800

Thomas Jefferson Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-8195

When one sees the elections of today, they think of the rhetoric that is being thrown at both sides. Every election seems to get worse and worse.

If only we could return to the glorious days of our founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Would it surprise you to know that the rhetoric was just as bad, or worse, back then as well?

The election of 1800 was the first election that had two parties where the winner would control the Presidency and the Vice-Presidency. The Federalists selected John Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and the Democratic-Republicans selected Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.

To get the full story, we would first need to begin by looking at the 1796 election when George Washington, a Federalist, declared that he would not run for President again.

In George Washington’s Farewell Address as President of the United States, he warned about the danger of parties in the State:

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to founding them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you, in the most solemn manner, against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes, in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled or repressed; but in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy. 1

At this time, under the original Constitution, two parties did choose their candidates, but there was nothing indicating how to handle two parties for the elections.

In this 1796 election, the Federalists ran John Adams and Thomas Pinckney and the Democratic-Republicans ran Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.

According to the Miller Center, a nonpartisan institute seeking to expand understanding of the presidency, policy, and political history, and based at the University of Virginia, states:

Each party named two presidential candidates, for under the original Constitution, each member of the electoral college was to cast two ballots for President. The winner of the presidential election was the individual who received the largest number of votes, if it constituted a majority of the votes cast. The person receiving the second largest number of votes, whether or not it was a majority, was to be the vice president. In the event that no candidate received a majority of votes, or that two candidates tied with a majority of votes, the House of Representatives was to decide the election, with each state, regardless of size, having a single vote. 2

John Adams Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-DIG-ppmsca-15705

After the Electoral College delegates cast their ballots, the Vice President, who was the presiding officer of the Senate, had the job to count them. This just happened to be John Adams.

When the votes were counted, John Adams had 71 votes making him President and Thomas Jefferson had 68 votes giving him the Vice-Presidency. This meant the government would be run by a Federalist as the President and a Democratic-Republican as the Vice-President. 3

Saying that the two parties were not fond of the other’s platform for the direction of the country would be a wild understatement. They bitterly opposed each other’s ideas.

The Federalist believed in a strong central government that would have the authority to restrain the excesses of popular majorities. They were backed by the commercial sector of the country favored by the electors in the northern states.

The Democratic-Republicans, containing many members of the former Anti Federalists, wanted to reduce the national authority allowing the people to rule more directly through the state governments. They drew their strength from those favoring an agrarian society which was the strongest in the southern states. 4

Alexander Hamilton Portrait Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-96268

Alexander Hamilton, a leader in the Federalist Party, once stated, “Men are reasoning rather than reasonable animals.” He disagreed with Thomas Jefferson’s view that the general public should control government. 5

Thomas Jefferson believed in universal education and universal suffrage for some white men. According to The American Pageant: A History of the American People: To 1877 by David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen and Thomas A. Bailey:

Above all, Jefferson advocated the rule of the people. But he did not propose thrusting the ballot into the hands of every adult white male. He favored government for the people, but not by all the people – only by those white men who were literate enough to inform themselves and wear the mantle of American citizenship worthily. Universal education would have to precede universal suffrage. The ignorant, he argued, were incapable of self-government. But he had profound faith in the reasonableness and teachableness of the masses and in their collective wisdom when taught. 6

The Democratic-Republican’s ideals may sound familiar today with their arguments against Federal authority, taxes, and the call for stronger states rights heard today by the Conservative and Libertarian Parties as they debate for smaller government. This debate has a long history in the United States.

The Election of 1800

By the time the campaigning for the 1800 Election began, many in both parties were angry with John Adams. The Miller Center describes the situation for Adams:

Timothy Pickering Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-47649

The Federalist Party was deeply split over his foreign policy. Many had opposed his decision to send envoys to Paris in 1799, some because they feared it would result in national humiliation for the United States and others because they hoped to maintain the Quasi-War crisis for partisan ends. Furthermore, early in 1800, Adams fired two members of his cabinet, Timothy Pickering, the secretary of state, and James McHenry, the secretary of war, for their failure to support his foreign policy. Their discharge alienated numerous Federalists. In addition to the fissures within his party, the differences between the Federalists and the Republicans had become white-hot. Jeffersonians were furious over the creation of a standing army, the new taxes, and the Alien and Sedition Acts7

The Federalists asked the electors to cast their two votes for John Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, but they did not designate which would be President. The Democratic-Republicans nominated Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, but designated Jefferson to be their candidate for President. 8

During this time, the candidates did not actively campaign, choosing to allow their camps to run their campaigns, while they spent most of their time in their respective homes in Massachusetts and Virginia.

James McHenry Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-54696

As the campaign continued, the Federalist camp painted Jefferson as a godless nonbeliever and a radical revolutionary. They believed if he was elected, he would bring about a reign of terror in the nation. Adams was accused of trying to have his son married off to King George III‘s daughter and was trying to setup a dynasty. 9

It got worse when John Adams was accused by Jefferson’s camp of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” This led Adam’s camp to call Jefferson, “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” 10

Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams, wrote, “In short, we are now wonderfully popular except with Bache & Co., who in his paper calls the President, old, querulous, bald, blind, cripple, toothless Adams.” 11

The campaign was getting particularly brutal with Adams being labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant. Adams’ camp followed suit by calling Jefferson a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. Martha Washington, after hearing the attacks on Adams, told a clergyman that Jefferson was “one of the most detestable of mankind.” 12

One other event transpired that showed one difference between Jefferson and Adams’ campaign styles. Jefferson decided to hire a ‘hatchet man‘ named James Callendar to smear Adams in publications while Adams believed he was above these types of tactics. This proved successful for Jefferson because Callendar’s work helped convince many Americans that Adams wanted to attack France. 13

Jefferson and Burr tied for first in the election with 73 votes each becoming the only time in American history that the President and the Vice President tied for first in an election. Unfortunately, for Jefferson, a tie meant the decision would have to be made by the House of Representatives, according to the Constitution, even though they declared in the beginning that he was running for President and Burr was running for Vice-President. In a close vote and with Alexander Hamilton’s help, because of his animosity towards Aaron Burr, Jefferson won the vote and became the President of the United States. 14

This election was the first of its kind in the United States because it was the first where an opposition party replaced another in running the government. Even after all of the vitriol that was slung in this election, Jefferson’s opponents stepped down peacefully, which is very significant. This two party structure allowed the opposing groups in the government to have a way of transferring power, through elections, without trying to destroy the other side and allowing each to coexist peacefully, and this established a precedent for all of the future elections to follow.

Sources cited:

1 Washington’s Farewell Address, Digital History, Retrieved May 24, 2012, from
2 John Adams Campaigns and Elections, The Miller Center, Retrieved May 24, 2012, from
3 John Adams, The Miller Center, Retrieved May 24, 2012, from
4 The Election of 1800, U.S. History, Retrieved May 24, 2012, from
5 Kennedy, D., Cohen, L. & Bailey, T.A., (2009), The American Pageant: A History of the American People: To 1877, Cengage Learning, pgs 220-221.
6 Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), University of Missouri-Kansas City, Retrieved May 24, 2012,from
http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/burr/hamiltonbio.htm
7 John Adams, The Miller Center, Retrieved May 24, 2012, from
Ibid.
Ibid.
10 Founding Fathers’ dirty campaign, CNN Living, Retrieved May 24, 2012, from
11 McCullough, D., (2008), John Adams, Simon and Schuster, pg. 500.
12 Founding Fathers’ dirty campaign, CNN Living, Retrieved May 24, 2012, from
13 Ibid.
14 John Adams, The Miller Center, Retrieved May 24, 2012, from