Bill Brock represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives from 1963 to 1977 and was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1977 to 1981.
It is time for Republicans to ask ourselves a question: Are we so obsessed with the damage we believe Barack Obama and the American left are doing to the values we hold dear that we would ignore the serious threat posed by the candidacy of Donald Trump — or is there something even more dangerous going on?
In a way, I am just as concerned about the destructive tone of the Trump campaign as I am about its demagogic content. How can you hear what someone else is saying, no matter how important, when you’re shouting? How can you bring people into a constructive search for solutions to our national problems when you do nothing but belittle them, and even suggest they are stupid, weak or corrupt?
A truly free society, one that gives its citizens the responsibility of participation, can function only to the extent there is civil discourse. We can engage in a mutual search for solutions only to the extent that we agree a problem exists. That can never happen unless we talk to each other, listen to each other and respect the fact that honorable people can reach different conclusions. When that sense of comity is missing, we are at risk.
Well, we are at risk, and the political dysfunction that afflicts much of representative government today offers ample evidence of that problem. The American people know it. They are angry, frustrated and fearful. Having to hold one’s nose in the voting booth does not comprise a true choice. Not voting at all carries a very different signal — that these members of our body politic fear that they have lost their voice, that no one is listening and that no one cares. Maybe they believe no one is listening at either end of the spectrum. And maybe, just maybe, they will conclude: “We will let someone else do the shouting — someone who can be heard.”
There could hardly be a more serious threat to our civil society.
Let’s get one point on the record. The great majority of our representatives are overwhelmingly competent, caring, honorable and decent public servants. Yet they are working within a system that too often makes it risky, if not downright dangerous, to reach across party lines to try to solve national problems.
Shouting is only part of it. There are also root causes. They include, but are not limited to, the ever-widening gap between our two parties caused by redistricting abuses and the undeniable sense that the election process itself is being swamped by unlimited and too often undisclosed funds from a select few. There is one more I fear — the too-often cable-TV-driven sense that only the dramatic, only the negative, only the ad hominem attack can garner sufficient attention to assure electoral success. The public disgust is palpable, and rightly so, but in a more fundamental sense, the results are disastrous.
These days, too many good candidates lose — too many individuals who were determined to be part of the solution, too many whose constructive message was lost in the cacophony of attack, demonize and demean.
Like our turned-off voters, they too were talking to the wind, and we are the losers.
It is desperately important that we move away from the inexcusably divisive, even abusive, language of recent years.
Perhaps all of us, and especially Trump, could take a page from history, from the words of Benjamin Franklin after the writing of a new Constitution. The debate had been hot and heavy. There were deep feelings on all sides, and many were expressing strong reservations about signing it. In calling for ratification, Franklin said, “On the whole, sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.”
Were we to doubt a little of our own infallibility, perhaps we might find it within us to listen, to give a little more care to viewpoints that differ from ours, expressing the hope that those who voice them care just as much for and believe just as firmly and fervently in their causes as we do ours. We might find the gift of a solution.
If you look around, Mr. Trump, I bet you will find that people whose conclusions differ markedly from your own can be, and usually are, just as patriotic, and just as interested in our country and its communities, as you are.
Were you to adopt such a stance, I believe you would make a signal contribution not merely to civil discourse but also to a civil society grounded in the mutual respect and trust our Founding Fathers placed in us.
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