During the most recent LDS General Conference, we heard yet another call for civility in our public dialogue. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “many in this world are afraid and angry with one another. While we understand these feelings, we need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions. This is especially true when we disagree. The Savior taught us to love even our enemies. The vast majority of our members heed this counsel. Yet there are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as Jesus Christ lived and taught. I invite each one of us individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior. It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable. Violence and vandalism are not the answer to our disagreements.”
This renewed call for civility is, in my view, very timely, given the current deluge of violence and angry rhetoric. In a previous post, I explored some of the recent violence and threatening language that came to a boiling point with the passage of the health care reform bill. In a response to a reader comment, I highlighted some of the specific incidents of inappropriate, violence-inciting rhetoric coming from prominent conservative leaders and conservative media:
When you have people like Glenn Beck and GOP Rep. Ron Paul going on national TV and starting rumors that Democrats are creating FEMA concentration camps for conservatives, you are inciting violence. When on FOX news, you regularly compare Obama to Stalin and Hitler, you are inciting hatred. When you have prominent conservative Christian preachers pray for Obama's death and then have one of their congregants show up at an Obama rally with an assault rifle, you are inciting violence. When the core leadership of your grass roots organization (the Tea Party) is comprised of "birthers" and individuals who believe that Obama is the Muslim anti-Christ, you are inciting fear and hatred. When you have the House Minority Leader warn that a Democratic Congressman "may be a dead man" if he voted for the health care bill, he is using violent rhetoric, even if he was only speaking metaphorically. When Michelle Bachman, GOP Rep from MN says she wants her constituents "armed and dangerous," in their opposition to the health care bill, she is encouraging violence, regardless of her true intent, which was likely metaphorical. When GOP Rep. George Peterson, in quoting a fellow activist, states that their movement is calling for a "complete and forceable overthrow" of Congress, during a anti-health care bill rally, he is inciting violence. The examples go on and on.
To me, it seemed like Elder Cook was speaking directly to those who have been using the type of violence-inciting, angry rhetoric we’ve seen and heard over the past year. We’ve see them at town hall meetings last summer where their shouts drowned out the ability of others to engage in a respectful dialogue with their elected representatives. We’ve heard them at Tea Party protests. We’ve heard them on the television and on the radio, where talk show hosts and pundits, as former Bush speechwriter David Frum noted, whipped their base into “a frenzy.” Though I think the recent widespread violence and threats of violence have been a much bigger phenomenon on the right than on the left, in part because conservatives are in the minority in our government, this call for civility applies to everyone regardless of political ideology or affiliation. Some day, as during the Bush Presidency, moderates and progressives will be in the minority again and they also must be a respectful, loyal opposition.