When John Adams handed over the keys to the government to Thomas Jefferson after a brutal, bruising, nasty, divisive election campaign, he started a noble tradition that is now well established in the United States of America — the peaceful transfer of power. With this tradition well established, we have the luxury of conducting a successful “revolution” using ballots instead of bullets. People who attempt to influence the government, or their fellow Americans, through violence, threats of violence, or even angry outbursts and demonstrations, dishonor this noble heritage.
These tactics are used primarily by people who feel powerless and who lack the ability to persuade others, including government officials, using reasoned, rational arguments. The Tea Party people have some legitimate complaints about our government. Unfortunately, the tactics and antics of some of the fringe members of that movement are making a major contribution to the coarsening of political discourse in our country.
The nature of modern media exacerbates the problem. Televison and radio shows, driven primarily by ratings, are well aware of the fact that angry confrontations, verbal or physical, will draw more ears and eyeballs than a calm discussion of the issues of the day. Those of us who prefer a quiet, reasoned examination of our problems and the potential solutions to them, are an endangered species.
The Internet (a two-edged sword, in many regards) offers concerned citizens a convenient and effective means of gathering information, sharing and communicating ideas, and organizing for political action. On the other hand, it also provides an easy means of spewing hate-filled diatribes for those inclined to do so.
As our civic arena becomes increasingly dominated by gladiatorial contests, I look on, from a distance, with a mild, but noticeable feeling of despair. On a personal level, I do what I can to combat the rising tide of incivility. I watch Charlie Rose instead of Glen Beck or Bill O'Reilly. I watch the PBS News Hour instead of Fox.