On the Decline of Civility in America

Even without statistics, most will agree that civility is in decline, particularly in politics and government.

Here are some statistics to add life to the claim:

Likely voters also see negative consequences of uncivil behavior: 79% say incivility in government is preventing action on important issues; 77% say the U.S. is losing stature as a civil nation; 76%  say incivility makes it difficult to even discuss controversial issues; 64% say they have stopped paying attention to political conversations and debates; and 61% say incivility is deterring people from entering public service.

A survey by KRC Research also shows Americans feel incivility has consequences and tends to be directed at certain groups. In fact, most see a direct link between incivility in society and violent behavior (93%), online bullying/cyberbullying (90%), discrimination/unfair treatment (88%), humiliation and harassment (92%), and intimidation and threats (93%).

What’s fascinating is what we treat as lack of civility, and what we do not. If Donald Trump says something, it’s immediately branded as uncivil. If he calls a news reporter—even an obviously biased one—an improper name, then yes, that shows a lack of civility. But if he takes a controversial position on some issue, such as taxes, health care, immigration or government regulation of the economy, there’s no lapse in civility for that fact alone. Dissenting opinion does not mean lack of civility.

The biggest thing in our society lacking civility is the government as we know it, particularly the political process. The political process forcibly takes money from some people to spend on the government’s most cherished interest groups. Most of what the government does involves the rewarding of cronies and powerful interest groups who believe these large sums of money benefit them better than living in an economically free society, where the government would take nothing except for the preservation of individual rights (from criminals, frauds, foreign invaders, etc.)

If you take the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters and put them together, you probably end up with a majority of the country. Yes, Bernie Sanders is an avowed socialist and Donald Trump wants a contradictory, hybrid mixture of capitalism and government controls (such as protectionism, which is not economic freedom). But all of their supporters are angry and disgusted at the lack of civility and fairness in a system rigged by political pull. Yet how did we get political pull in the first place? By mixing economy and state. By taking money from some, not just to build a military and a court system, but to socially engineer people’s lives and redistribute wealth. Bernie Sanders’ socialism will only intensify that problem, and continuing the hybrid mixture of socialism and capitalism Donald Trump wants will not change anything, either. When you treat mass numbers of people like pawns, and you reward political and bureaucratic officials with unearned power over other people’s lives and money, lack of civility is what you get. Plus a whole lot more to come.

Even if you think these transfers of huge sums of money (including massive amounts of debt) are warranted and justified, it does not change the fact that it’s brute force. I’ve actually heard people argue that it’s not brute force. Well, what happens if you don’t pay your taxes? What happens if you refuse to participate in or honor the laws involving Social Security, Medicare, and all the rest? What happens if you refuse to hand over your gun to protect your life and your home, or you refuse to let the EPA treat your back yard as private property? You get prosecuted, you pay a fine, or you go to prison. All these actions involve force. I could not care less if these policies were voted by a majority vote. What about the rights of the dissenting 49 percent, or 25 percent, or of even one single individual who are violated by these initiations of force?

I will not argue that lack of civility is a good or rational thing. But I won’t pretend that there’s not already widespread lack of civility throughout our government, on both sides, and long before Donald Trump became a presidential candidate. When the IRS targets people with politically incorrect views with audits and other forms of harassment, and President Obama brushes it off, that’s not civil. When Vice President Joe Biden refers to opponents of Obamacare as economic “terrorists,” I would call that a lack of civility. When the Attorney General of the United States implies or states that criminal penalties should be brought against people who question climate change or who criticize the ideology of Islam, I call that a lack of civility. When people screaming about the lack of civility do so, they’re usually talking about Donald Trump. But they don’t seem nearly as bothered by these other breaches in civility, not to mention fairness or justice, when practiced by the reigning powers that be.

Without intending to necessarily defend everything, nor even anything, Donald Trump says or does, why in the world do we look at him as the living embodiment of civility’s decline, while we ignore its evidence absolutely everywhere else? If you think Donald Trump is horrible, then you ought to consider everything else that has been going on every day in our government.

Perhaps you think, like most people, that a “certain amount” of force and coercion is required, to serve the “common good.” You mean that not only with respect to doing what’s necessary to stop terrorists or criminals, but to spread the wealth around in society in a way that you consider personally the most fair, and that enables you to sleep soundly at night, knowing you fit the definition of what you consider to be a virtuous person.

All I can say in reply is that you asked for it.

Because when a government, especially one as powerful and mighty as the United States government, sets out to use its power to forcibly make people do things they do not wish to do, or prevent them from doing what they have every right to do with their minds, their money or their bodies, then sooner or later you can expect a total breakdown in civilization.

That’s exactly what we’re seeing today.

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