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  • Writer's picturePat Lucas

A RETURN TO STATESMANSHIP?




There has been a lot of talk lately about

“unity” and “civility” in our political debate. But what does that really mean? Our country has never been unified. In fact, during some of the most important issues we as a people have faced, our nation was very divided. We face important issues today, and in order to debate these and come to some consensus, we are being told that it is more important how we discuss, rather than what we discuss.


Our nation was very divided on what to do with the issue of slavery. Our nation’s founders were bitterly divided about this even before the United States achieved independence. Many attempts had been made to compromise, or achieve some sort of “middle ground” for decades. The compromises were pointless, as the nation continued to only become more divided. In 1856, in the United States Senate chamber, Representative Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery Democrat from South Carolina, used a walking cane to attack Senator Charles Sumner, an abolitionist Republican from Massachusetts. It was obvious to everyone that no rules of decorum or civility could solve the crisis over slavery. In fact, we could ask, is it even right to seek compromise or middle ground with such injustice as slavery?


A more modern example can be found with our transformation to electronic communication. Rather than needing an expensive printing press and hundreds of employees to print news on paper, any citizen now has instant capability to send messages around the world. This revolution in communication has come under increasing control and even outright censorship in the last few years. We are told that the reason for this is to promote “civility” and “decorum,” in theory. But in practice, the censorship only affects one side of the political spectrum.

Here in Cheyenne, a city ordinance was passed recently to prevent “hate speech.” It states, in part, that “It shall be unlawful and an offense for any person to maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, disability, or political affiliation” to assault or batter someone; damage, deface, steal or trespass upon a person’s property; or threaten “by word or act.”


If I’m not mistaken, it’s already unlawful to assault, batter, damage, deface, steal, trespass or threaten. So the new ordinance is important because it adds “by word” to the list of unlawful conduct. Now words can be a crime. A former school board member recently said that concerned parents at local school board meetings were all “bad parents.” He made no effort to discern which parents were “bad parents” or provide any examples of bad parenting. He did specifically cite the Moms for Liberty group, so that pretty clearly libels all members of a political affiliation and can only be malicious in intent. He certainly wasn’t promoting civil discourse. When concerned parents reported this to the mayor and police chief, they were told it was free speech.


During the special session last year, a house member and former speaker of the house unleashed a bigoted and profanity laden rant on the house floor during another member’s floor speech. What was the establishment’s punishment for the establishment member? Surprisingly, nothing.


Is civility important? That all depends on who gets to define “civility;” and who gets to enforce “civility.”


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