by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Would I be wrong to say there is incivility in American life? It’s not so much — not in my experience — a lack of cordiality in one’s own neighborhood. There are liberal Democrats in houses on either side of ours, but we get along famously. But in Albany, let alone in Washington? In those capitals, it’s politics as war by other means.
It was not always so. Our relations with one another ebb and flow — nobody is being caned on the Senate floor these days, at least — but today, politics is far likelier to make us meaner to each other, and is nastier overall, than was the case even a few decades ago. What happened?
Many of us are genuinely distressed about our nation’s dwindling appreciation of public etiquette — at the boorishness of some of our fellow citizens (those who “invaded” the Capitol), and at the rancor in our public conversations, especially about politics and religion. We do well to remember that manners are minor morals, and this relationship doesn’t apply just to the dinner table.
An example: During the mayoralties of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, crime in New York City declined, in part because those mayors accepted the “broken windows” approach to policing. That policy recognizes that if misdemeanors are ignored, felonies will follow, whereas if you crack down on petty crime, big crimes will be more easily prevented.
It was odd, then, that in the midst of the pandemic Mayor de Blasio banned or restricted religious gatherings yet personally participated in large political demonstrations — even tolerating violent protests.
Antifa, you could say, is boorishness writ large.
And I’ll say plainly that the American Republic — and this is true, I think, of all free societies — was founded by gentlemen and depends upon their gentlemanly ideals for both its prosperity and its posterity.