Shameful Incivility, Tribalism, and the Future of the Republic

Shameful Incivility, Tribalism, and the Future of the Republic January 6, 2021


The US Constitution, not the boat
I’m rather fond of this quaint old document, and wish more people and more politicians were closely acquainted with it.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


I hear that they held an election yesterday out in Georgia, and the results seem to be coming in just about as I expected.  I’ve also heard rumors about some sort of gathering today at the United States Capitol.


But I’m not going to say anything about either of those matters.  I don’t publicly comment on partisan politics any more.  (Privately, things are quite different.)  I hope, however, that I will still be permitted to put in an occasional word for civility, mutual respect, and civil society.


This story — which has been picked up by news outlets internationally, as well as nationally — has filled me with shame and deep disgust, but has also left me profoundly discouraged about the prospects for our society and our constitutional order:


“Utah Sen. Mitt Romney harassed by Trump supporters on flight to Washington: ‘Romney deserves more respect than this — yet responds with decency & patience,’ said Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge, defending the fellow Utahn”


I’m appalled at the sheer nastiness of the episode, but perhaps most of all I’m repulsed by the loose and casual way in which the word traitor has lately been tossed around.  It’s the appropriate term for such folks as Benedict Arnold, Vidkun QuislingAlger HissJulius Rosenberg, Adam Gadahn, and Tokyo Rose, but not for your next-door neighbor who voted differently in the school board election than you did or who affiliates with a different political party than you do.  Earlier this morning, a reader comment following the Deseret News article approved applying the label of “traitor” to Mitt Romney, and noted that treason is a capital offense.  Fortunately, the editors at the Deseret News appear to have removed that call for Senator Romney’s death.  But such wildly irresponsible misuse of the term traitor is becoming depressingly common:


“Pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood denies insanity after tweeting Mike Pence should ‘face firing squad’; Wood said that the vice-president could be arrested and executed for treason; He dismissed accusations of ‘insanity,’ saying he is ‘fine’”


I genuinely fear that, in the minds of at least a few fanatics or a few of the mentally unbalanced, such use of the label traitor will inspire violence.  However, even if it doesn’t, it’s wrong.  Flatly, unambiguously wrong.


The video on board the plane that is included in the article bears the caption “Mitt Romney, in a flight full of patriots in their way to DC.”  I liked the response to that caption from Jay Nordlinger of the venerable conservative magazine National Review, which he posted already last night:  “The patriot on that flight is Mitt Romney — who I think is the most admirable person in American politics today.”


Addressing the makers of the video of Senator Romney being verbally assaulted in the Salt Lake City airport, the Republican pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz remarked that “Mitt Romney handled this flawlessly, and nobody outside of your echo chamber thinks this makes you look good.”


I was also pleased to see comments on the episode from Senator Mike Lee and from Alyssa Farah, who served in various positions in the Trump administration, including a stint as White House Director of Strategic Communications and Assistant to the President:


“Former White House official says Trump supporters harassing Romney ‘beneath us as a country'”


However, as I’ve considered the terribly divisive and angry politics of especially the past year, I’ve found myself thinking repeatedly and involuntarily of 3 Nephi 7:


Now behold, I will show unto you that they did not establish a king over the land; but in this same year, yea, the thirtieth year, they did destroy upon the judgment-seat, yea, did murder the chief judge of the land.  And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land.  And every tribe did appoint a chief or a leader over them; and thus they became tribes and leaders of tribes.

Now behold, there was no man among them save he had much family and many kindreds and friends; therefore their tribes became exceedingly great.

Now all this was done, and there were no wars as yet among them; and all this iniquity had come upon the people because they did yield themselves unto the power of Satan.

And the regulations of the government were destroyed, because of the secret combination of the friends and kindreds of those who murdered the prophets.  And they did cause a great contention in the land, insomuch that the more righteous part of the people had nearly all become wicked; yea, there were but few righteous men among them.

And thus six years had not passed away since the more part of the people had turned from their righteousness, like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire.


Then I think of the memorable words of President Ezra Taft Benson:


“The Book of Mormon … was written for our day. The Nephites never had the book; neither did the Lamanites of ancient times. It was meant for us. Mormon wrote near the end of the Nephite civilization. Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, he abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us.

“Each of the major writers of the Book of Mormon testified that he wrote for future generations. … If they saw our day and chose those things which would be of greatest worth to us, is not that how we should study the Book of Mormon? We should constantly ask ourselves, ‘Why did the Lord inspire Mormon (or Moroni or Alma) to include that in his record? What lesson can I learn from that to help me live in this day and age?’” (Teachings: Ezra Taft Benson, 140).


Will we listen to the warning?  Unhopeful as I currently am, I share the following on a somewhat more positive note:


Boyd Matheson, Deseret News“Atonement, politics and how the power of ideas can bring Americans together”

Amanda Freebairn, Public Square: “LET’S FORGIVE 2020”

Jennifer Graham, Deseret News“What George Will taught me about civility and other reflections on an uncivil year: Conservatism, cancel culture and a viral poem about the pandemic provide a window into 2020”



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