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home : most recent : statewide implications February 17, 2019


2/7/2019 11:37:00 AM
COMMENTARY: Incivility: Where are we headed?

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. His column appears in Indiana newspapers.

“For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7)

The prophet Hosea was warning the people of his nation, Old Testament Israel, that their actions had consequences, consequences that would be much worse than they could possibly expect. Think wind. Then think whirlwind.

As our public discourse somehow manages to get worse and worse almost daily, one can’t help but wonder if a whirlwind is in the offing.

One would not expect the newly elected congressional Democrats to be Donald Trump supporters, but one should expect a certain gravitas to be shown by holders of this important trust. Not so, at least as evidenced by the crude outburst by Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib. Using an epithet one should never hear in public, she announced her intention of impeaching the president but without, to the best of my knowledge, ever citing any of the constitutionally required prerequisites for such an action.

In a civilized society like ours purports to be, this should have produced an outpouring of opprobrium and demands for an apology by all sorts of national leaders and especially from the choir of the continually offended. There has been silence.

Can it get any worse? Unfortunately, history tells us it can. We need only look to the Roman Republic, that form of government our Founding Fathers were so fond of acclaiming as a paragon of civic virtue.

In the century running roughly from 150-50 B.C., that ancient republic staggered under assaults on its institutions and cultural mores. Operating under a set of formal and informal rules, Roman politics were constrained within a boundary of acceptable behavior. Just because a tactic was technically legal under the constitution did not make it suitable for use. Called the mos maiorum or “way of the elders,” it was a society-wide gentlemen’s agreement to keep civil affairs civil.

Until, that is, one young but ambitious politician didn’t get his way. He certainly considered himself an idealist wanting only to provide a practical solution to a real problem, but the methods he used were the equivalent of starting a small snowball rolling down a long, steep slope.

Each response and counter-response escalated the snowball’s path. Public theater was the handiest tool in the astute politician’s toolbox, with the public demonstrations degrading into uncontrollable mobs. The violence meter rose progressively higher until it was no longer containable. All a politician could do was to promise more and more to the voting public and try to direct the mob’s anger toward his opponents.

Violence, both the verbal and the physical kind, inevitably begets more violence. Rome’s beloved republic finally died a death of a thousand cuts to be replaced by what was nothing more than a military dictatorship, sometimes ruled by a benevolent despot but mostly not.

Is this America’s path? I pray not, but I am not sanguine about our chances. As one who grew up in the golden age of the 1950s, I can’t but fear for where my country is heading. We can’t look to Washington for the solution because it merely reflects what we are in our local communities.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., recently wrote a book entitled Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal. His solution is one of grassroots civility and rebuilding personal relations where live and work. It sounds Pollyannaish but then my recollection is that the little girl proved right in the Disney movie.

So I’m rooting for Sasse’s prescription. The alternative is too depressing to entertain, especially for an avocational historian like me who reads too much about bad things that happened in the past.

So how did things work out for the nation Israel back in the 8th century B.C.? Not well at all. They’re not called the Ten Lost Tribes without reason.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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