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Civility isn’t getting anyone’s vote of confidence

Ana Veciana Suarez
Ana Veciana Suarez

Nasty, nasty, nasty.

That’s what this presidential campaign has become, with its extra layer of slime, its spiteful candidates and its revolting sound bites that focus on our most repugnant traits.

“I’ve had it up to here,” a friend announced the other night, when a handful of us had gathered for wine and cheese and girl talk. “It’s just one attack after another and nothing really concrete about how they’re going to do what they promise.”

A few mornings later, with another group of women friends, I watched as a morning news show detailed the latest vicious sparring between Republican candidates.

“Oh, enough!” someone grumbled. “Is nothing else happening in the world?”

Last month alone Donald Trump, all bluster and pompadour, managed to insult pretty much everybody and everything: pope, protesters, and fellow presidential candidates. In the last debate, his GOP rivals came out swinging, too.

Spirited discussions are a necessity for democracy, but much of what we’re seeing in this never-ending slog to November is not debate. It’s a shouting match, a food fight, a stomach-churning example of posturing.

But here’s the thing that truly galls me: This foulness is something we’ve come to accept — and expect. In fact, research has shown that, for all our breast-beating protests against negative campaigning, mudslinging is now more common and more venomous. Apparently it works well with the electorate.

Everybody, and I mean everybody, is screaming at each other. What’s wrong with us? Are our imaginations that limited? Has a reticence to different ideas become a trait to be proud of?

These days if you say something with enough invective, people will believe you. They'll give you money, show up at your rallies and vote for you in the primaries. Insults have become common currency and name-calling a sport. We mistake harangues for strength, rage for toughness.

Of course it’s not just politics where simple politeness and social graces have fallen by the wayside. Civility in other arenas is following the path already trotted by the VCR and the rotary dial telephone — that is, the rutted road to extinction or, at the very best, to the dusty curio shelf of a museum.

Check out the diatribes on social media. Listen to some popular lyrics. Tune into a few TV programs. Our language and demeanor have grown coarser and coarser, as if the flick of an insult or the flounce of a swagger can anoint us with … with … with what exactly?

And let’s not blame the proverbial “other.” It’s all of us, at one time or another. Attacks transcend generations and geography.

I suspect it hasn’t always been so. The rancor between parties, between peoples has grown for myriad reasons, amplified by the 24/7 news cycle, cable shows and access to digital forums.

Yet I want something different for my children and grandchildren. I want the kind of atmosphere, in both the public and private sectors, where dialogue is welcome and our leaders are seriously committed to working through problems, not lobbing sound-bite slurs. I want to believe civility is possible, even if every news story tells me otherwise.

“How much more left of this?” a friend asked rhetorically. She counted off the months on her fingers with weary resignation.

Eight months, eight long, trying months. God help us.

Ana Veciana-Suarez’s column appears Sunday.

Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132, send email to aveciana@herald.com, or follow her on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

McClatchy News Service

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