Donald Trump, His Detractors, and the Rhetoric of Provocation

As we have previously stated, the Institute endorses no candidates and no policy positions. However, occasionally a political figure will say or do something that pertains to civility and deserves comment. Donald Trump’s recent proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States falls into this category, insofar as it is contrary to the spirit of open dialog and free expression that is necessary for the health of a vibrant pluralist society.

In a press release Monday, his campaign wrote that: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. To the Associated Press, Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski clarified that this means not only immigration, but tourists seeking to enter the country. And Trump himself strongly implied that the ban would include Muslims who are U.S. citizens and travel outside of the country.

Beyond the fact that this plan would violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, Trump’s words have the effect of polarizing and provoking. They close, rather than open, avenues of civil dialog. And they have the potential to incite violence against a group that is already frequently the target of hate crimes in the United States. Just hours before Trump’s statement, for example, police and the FBI confirmed that they were investigating an incident in which a severed pig’s head was left outside of a mosque in North Philadelphia.

Several members of Trump’s political party have denounced his proposal. Jeb Bush offered a strong rebuke through Twitter. And, as CNN reports, state chairs of the Republican Party in New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina were critical as well. Matt Moore, the Republican chair in South Carolina, tweeted that we must remain vigilant about defending our inalienable rights, not attacking them when it’s politically convenient. And Jennifer Horn, head of the New Hampshire GOP, called the proposal “un-American” and “un-Republican.”

That said, there is a second strain of criticism being leveled against Donald Trump that is as unacceptable as the proposal itself. That is, what philosopher Leo Strauss in 1951 dubbed reductio ad Hitlerum. Reductio ad Hitlerum is a type of ad hominem logical fallacy that proposes that a person’s views, and therefore the person him- or herself, is like Hitler, a Nazi, a fascist, or the Nazi Party.

This was clear Monday when The Times of Israel ran an image with their story on Trump’s proposal of the candidate seemingly engaged in the Nazi salute. And it was clear this morning in the Philadelphia Daily News’s punning headline: “The New Furor.”

Donald Trump, His Detractors, and the Rhetoric of Provocation
Times of Israel, December 7, 2015

 

Donald Trump, His Detractors, and the Rhetoric of Provocation
Philadelphia Daily News, December 8, 2015

But the Nazi – or more generally fascist – comparison is not limited to images and three-word tags. Journalist Xeni Jardin, writing at BoingBoing.net, called Donald Trump a candidate for Führer of the United Fascist States of America. And an article at Quartz.com by Uzra Khan of the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy called this proposal, and earlier comments about tracking Muslim Americans, a set of ideas reeking of Nazism.

Finally, on social media, this meme has been circulating for the past twenty-four hours:

Donald Trump, His Detractors, and the Rhetoric of Provocation
The Institute obviously DOES NOT endorse any comparison of anybody, least of all Donald Trump, to Hitler.

The trouble with the reductio ad Hitlerum argument is almost precisely the same as the problem with Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslim immigration: it is alarmist, overwrought, and privileges polarization and provocation over the sort of meaningful dialog that has a chance to disarm bigotry and lead to productive changes in policy and attitude alike. How can one respond to a comparison to Nazi Germany? With blanket denial, defensiveness, or an equally sweeping counter-attack. And none of those responses are useful.

The fact of the matter is that our attitudes toward and policies regarding immigration do require serious public scrutiny. Violence perpetrated by extremists of all creeds is currently an exigent problem in the United States. And America’s undercurrent of festering anti-Islamic sentiment does require open dialog if it’s ever to find resolution.

But when candidates for high office propose extreme measures, and when those proposals are met with disproportionate and ad hominem attacks, we cannot collectively do any of those things. To foster dialog, to resolve hate, and to countenance scrutiny, America needs the kind of safe space created through civility. And it is civility that these kinds of rhetorical tactics threaten, if not destroy.

Civility, Trust, and Gun Violence

It’s difficult to talk about the issue of civility in relation to our national debate about gun violence. Acts of violence like the one we saw today on the campus of Northern Arizona University, or the one we saw last week at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College, are of course inherently, profoundly the opposite of civil. In the course of one person’s cry for attention, such heinous acts silence the voices of others, rend communities, and eliminate the possibility of a productive solution to whatever kind of problem – or perceived problem – precipitated the violence to begin with.

But beyond the event itself, our discussions of such tragedies seem to push civility away to the margins. Folks in favor of changes to gun laws hear protests that we need to respect the rights of gun owners as an endorsement of mass violence. While defenders of gun rights indulge the slippery-slope fallacy that any curb on where and how guns may be used is the first step toward an outright ban.

Part of this incivility can be put down to the adversarial nature of the campaign process in which Americans are now so thoroughly engaged. The polarization of presidential primaries means that when candidate Ben Carson told ABC News that were he in Oregon, he would ask everybody to attack the gunman because he can only shoot one of us at a time, he took the extreme position he believed he needed in order to appease his base. And when The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah responded, I think he’s overestimating how inspiring his presence might be, he went the ad hominem route he believed would make his audience laugh.

The problem, though, is that this kind of polarized response doesn’t just happen in front of the cameras. On Twitter, gun proponents who are surely otherwise civil people mix personal attacks with hyperbole, contributing to the transformation of a conversation into a shouting match.

Civility, Trust, and Gun Control

While gun opponents, elsewhere, do the same. Alex Pareene at Gawker tells gun control advocates to emulate the most extreme fringe of the anti-abortion movement, hoisting graphic signs bearing the images of dead children outside of gun stores:

If the gun control movement actually, really wants to change America’s gun culture, they will have to put the least reasonable and the least accommodating activists they can find in charge of directing the entire movement.

It’s understandable that a debate about gun violence – especially – might move people to these sorts of extremes. If we consider psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory of a hierarchy of human needs for a moment, “personal safety” is more fundamental than “esteem,” which is where we might reasonably imagine civility falls.

Civility, Trust, and Gun Violence
Image by FireflySixtySeven, via Wikimedia Commons — CC-BY-SA

We can contest the accuracy of Maslow’s hierarchy. We can say – as many researchers have done since he first published his schema – that human necessities are not so strictly segregated as he suggests and that we can in fact seek self-actualization and physiological necessities at the same time. But in this case, his pyramid is telling and it illuminates a very real problem.

In order to achieve a measure of safety where guns are concerned, we must be able to hold a civil debate. But it is difficult to have a civil debate until all sides in the discussion feel that they have achieved safety.

This is a paradox, but it is not an insurmountable one. And for our own sake and the sake of our neighbors, it is a paradox that we absolutely must surmount. The fact of the matter is that almost no gun rights advocate is comfortable with the idea that there have been – conservatively – 341 deaths in high-profile mass shootings since the year 2000. And the fact is that it is only a very few gun control advocates who believe it is either possible or advisable to part Americans from their guns entirely.

So when President Obama tells us, as he did in his comments about the Oregon shootings, that we must reconsider the notion… that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, we should take him at his word that he is not in fact out to ban all guns. And when a gun advocate like Representative Trent Franks says that he believes gun-free zones are magnets for shooters who deliberately choose a place where they know no one can defend themselves, we should take him at his word, too, that he is earnestly trying to advocate for a solution he thinks is right.

As much as anything, a debate about the place of guns in the future of American society has to begin with a modicum of trust that all sides of the issue are coming to the table with positions that they hold in good faith. Because it is only through that trust that civility can prevail, and it is only with civility that we can engage in the very serious discussion of this topic that we so desperately need.

Putting Our Uncivil Presidential Race in Historical Perspective

There’s a sub-genre out there of news articles about civility that focus on its decline and impending demise. The most recent, perhaps, is an August column in the Jewish Journal that begins with the austere pronouncement that the last quarter of a century has witnessed the decline of civility in U.S. politics. But it is hardly the only article of its type. Olympia Snowe made news in 2014 when she called the decline of civility in political discourse one of the big issues with Congress. The 2012 Presidential election was rife with similar sentiments. And New York Times columnist David Brooks, in 2011, proclaimed that the problem of polarization and the loss of civility in our time may be attributed to the fact that civility’s roots in modesty have been carved away.

It’s hard, looking at the current crop of presidential hopefuls, to disagree with these assessments. More than a year out from the 2016 election, contenders in this vast field of candidates are lobbing ad hominem attacks at each other and the media, and competing, it seems – from certain perspectives at least – to state their policy positions in the most crass manner possible. The column in the Jewish Journal calls the current flashpoint … the media firestorm over The Donald’s misogyny and xenophobia. But Mr. Trump is not alone. And his party is not the only culprit.

The fact, however, that a devolution into epidemic incivility is an easy narrative for many of us to like does not make it accurate. And the fact that our current culture may reward politicians for boorish behavior does not mean that that was any less true twenty-five, or fifty, or one hundred fifty years ago.

Case in point: the 1884 presidential race.

In 1884, the Democrats put up former New York Governor Grover Cleveland against the Republicans’ James G. Blaine, who had been Secretary of State to Benjamin Harrison and James Garfield. The famous icon of incivility from that race is a certain political cartoon, promoted by Republicans, that dramatized the narrative that Cleveland had abandoned an illegitimate child in order to make his run for the White House. Republicans charged that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in Buffalo, and chanted, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” at rallies and campaign stops.

But that was hardly the only uncivil trope that year. Charging that James G. Blaine was too deep in the pockets of lobbyists and that he had corruptly influenced legislation in favor of railroads, later profiting on the sale of bonds, Democrats and competing Republicans alike labeled him a liar and a crook. Political cartoons appeared that vivified the indelible nature of Blaine’s prior misdeeds by depicting him covered in tattoos. And at Democratic political events, the rallying cries included the chanted slogan: “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine.

Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa

James G. Blaine Marked With the Indellible Ink of Corruption

1884 saw a schism in the Republican party in which one prominent faction – the so-called Mugwumps – sided with the Cleveland campaign out of outrage at Blaine’s nomination. And it saw members of the remaining Republicans engage in personal attacks against that faction, including intimations that its members were homosexual.

We tend to think of incivility in politics, and especially during campaigns, as a modern innovation because it is so amplified by television news, and especially by the 24-hour news cycle. But even at the unamplified volume of 1884 – before radio, much less television – it was no less present.

If anything, we in the twenty-first century have good cause for hope on civility in some respects. Our politicians may pepper their discourse with terms like anchor babies, and our media may make derisive comments about the state of one leading candidate’s hair. But no matter how harrowing it becomes, our political culture is not that of the 1855-56 34th Congress. And no matter how uncivil our words, none of our current crop of politicians is like U.S. Representative Preston Brooks who, on May 22, 1856, beat Senator Charles Sumner with a walking cane on the Senate floor, causing him a severe head trauma from which it took three years of convalescence to recover.

Contemporary columnists are correct in their assessment that we need more civility in our politics. It is obviously to all our advantages to talk through our differences instead of slinging mud (or wielding blunt weapons). And it is certainly to all our advantages to be in a position where we have partners on the other side of the political aisle rather than rivals or enemies.

But to overstate the case – to suggest that Washington D.C. is a sinking ship and that among its denizens, it’s every rat for himself – does no one any good. And aside from its inaccuracy, it seems demoralizing rather than motivating to suggest that the uncivil present is any worse than our uncivil past.

Pomegranates for Sale (A Work of Fiction)

sarah-tuttle-singer-guest-blogSarah Tuttle-Singer is an LA expat growing roots in Israel where she lives with her two kids in a small village with a breathtaking view of rolling fields and endless sky. Sarah is a Contributing Editor at Kveller.com, the New Media Editor at The Times of Israel, and has written for several sites including The Times of Israel, Scary Mommy, Hevria, TIME.com, Jezebel, and Ladies Home Journal.

“You’re so lucky I am here to guide you, to protect you in this part of the city,” her friend had told her ten seasons past, while they walked through a wind-rubbed Muslim Quarter deep into December.

He said this when she pointed to words in Arabic written in blood-red paint, the letters drip-dried over old stone. “In this part of town, you never know,” he continued, “if Hamas or Islamic Jihad or even a salafi, perhaps, is close by and writing on walls.”

“What does it say?” she asked, as she glanced over each shoulder, right and left, afraid.

“It says Death to the Jews,” he replied. “But don’t be afraid. You’re with me and I will tell you everything you need to know to be safe.”

And small in the shadow of the stone and of the man who knew so much about this place, she believed, and would never pass that way again.

“We can’t go this way,” she would then say to others as the months passed into two years. “There’s a sign that says Death to the Jews. So it surely isn’t safe along this road.”

But then she learned the letters for herself, the dips and bends of the Arabic script carved in buildings and written on signs. She learned the names aren’t so different, its elementary, really : Alif Ba, (like Alef Bet).

Through rockets falling and a war, she traced her fingers line by line.

And she learned to say hello in this language, too, and how to get beyond the price of pita, or black coffee, until she forgot to be afraid and ended up again in that same bend of alley space beside that writing, and startled, she looked up:

The words in red had not faded in the least.

Still sanguine stark on stone, as when she had passed them on that winter day ten seasons before.

But all alone and unafraid, she read them for herself this time:

“Five shekels a kilogram. Pomegranates for sale.”

And she laughed until the tears came, at the sweetness she had missed.

This story is a work of fiction – it didn’t happen, but it could. So much of the history and the politics of the Israeli Palestinian conflict is shaped by fear — some real, yes… But some imagined. And until both sides learn the language of the other, we cannot hope to be on the same page.

For more on language as dividers in conflict, please read:

Posts by guest authors reflect their own views and opinions, and not necessarily the views and opinions of the Institute for Civility in Government.

Civility Linkblogging: Education, Religious Expression, and Free Speech

Civility Linkblogging
A Lynx, because Linkblogging

Welcome back to civility linkblogging. In this recurring segment here at the Civility blog, we highlight discourse in print and around the web that engages with notions of civility, either by expounding on some aspect of it we might not otherwise think about, or by showing us civility — or lack thereof — in action.

This week’s links come at the nexus of what we here in the United States think of as the First Amendment. The majority of our articles this week are about religion, free speech, and civility. We have one that offers some guidance on the limits of free speech in an educational context; another that points toward a balance between religion, politics, and civility; and a third about policing civility in one of the world’s largest collaborative scholarly projects — the Wikipedia.

If you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

The Humanities Can Help Us Rekindle Notions of the Common Good
Posted by Bernard L. Kavaler at The CT Mirror, January 20, 2015

Nearly half of millennials – significantly more than any other generation – now accept the notion that incivility is part of the American political process. But in a recent poll by Weber Shandwick, nearly one in four millennials believe civility will improve over the next few years, two to four times the percentage of other generations. While 56 percent of millennials say the Internet and social media are making civility worse, they remain optimistic.

Given the dizzying changes and challenges that demand our response, common ground and the common good are too often viewed — to our collective detriment — as unwelcome capitulation, unbridled naiveté, or utterly unattainable.

Civility and Free Speech in Education
Posted by David Moshman at The Huffington Post, January 21, 2015

What to do? Nothing in any Supreme Court decision requires censorship. Far from promoting civility, censorship is itself uncivil. Teachers can and should promote civil discussion without censoring or punishing uncivil speech. They can be models of civility, can urge and remind students to respect each other, can engage students in serious argumentation, and can evaluate the quality of their arguments. None of this requires censorship.

Sometimes there will be controversy about what gets said and sometimes there will be efforts to prevent or punish uncivil ideas or modes of expression. We should not assume that if academic freedom is threatened the First Amendment will come to its rescue. Rather than rely on wishful thinking about constitutional law, educators at all levels must clarify and explain the academic basis for academic freedom and promote policies that protect that freedom for all.

Civility Is a Currency We Must Value
Posted by Martin Flanagan at The Age, January 24, 2015

Culturally and politically, I belong to the West. I happen to believe in parliamentary democracy… That people can routinely commit appalling deeds while claiming to be acting in the name of religion is precisely why I do not wish to live in a religious state. I want my daughters and granddaughters to have access to the social rights and liberties that have been hard-won by women in Western societies. I believe in a secular democratic society and intend to do my bit defending it.

What I am arguing for is civility. To quote a diplomat’s wife from the 18th century, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, “Civility costs nothing, and buys everything.” As for Ali Faraj, he and I’ll keep talking. About what? About everything. At the moment, he’s badgering me to take him for a trip around Tasmania. He knows I’m from down there and wants to see the place. Ali loves Australia.

Incivility Is on the Rise. Five Ways to Avoid Being Part of the Problem
Posted by Michelle Powell at AL.com, January 26, 2015

Millennials reportedly experience bad behavior on a daily basis. And admittedly, they are themselves the culprits four in 10 times, yet Millennials are the very generation with the most hope that things will get better.

The 2014 report shows 23 percent optimism for improved civility in future America as compared to no more than 11 percent from the other generations.

So what does all of this mean for business? According to the study, an uncivil work environment has caused 27 percent of millennials to quit a job. And because of poor treatment by a company representative nearly half (49 percent) have either stopped patronizing a company or told others not to support that business.

Civility, Wikipedia, and the Conversation on Gamergate
Posted by Philippe Beaudette at the Wikimedia Blog, January 27, 2015

Civility is an important concept for Wikipedia: it is what allows people to collaborate and disagree constructively even on difficult topics. It ensures people are able to focus their energy on what really matters: building a collaborative free encyclopedia for the world.

A group of trusted, long-term volunteer English Wikipedia editors (known as the Arbitration Committee) is now reviewing the conduct of the editors who participated on the Gamergate controversy article discussions. Their mandate is to review editor conduct, and address disruptions so that Wikipedia can remain a civil, productive place for all editors. They may do so through issuing warnings, bans, or other means.

Alec Baldwin, “Good-Bye, Public Life,” and Civility

From the EditorsOrdinarily, this is not a venue where — we hope — one expects to find celebrity news. But from the perspective of civility, Alec Baldwin’s new piece in New York Magazine, “Good-Bye, Public Life,” is worthy of special consideration. In it, Baldwin offers a firsthand account of the very real decline in civility when it comes to how we interact with public figures — with actors, members of the media, and politicians. While at the same time, he demonstrates the way in which incivility is virulent, taking root even — or perhaps especially — in the author himself.

Baldwin is most insightful when it comes to the adversarial stew that has him, in his words, done with it — with being a public figure beyond the work you are actually paid for. Now, he says, everyone has a camera in their pocket. It is a culture of predatory photographers and gossip sites where folks get paid to taunt you and catch you doing embarrassing things. It is a culture where anything good you do is tossed in a pit, and you are measured by who you are on your worst day.

What’s the Boy Scout code? Trustworthy. Loyal. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. Kind. Obedient. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. Clean. Reverent. I might be all of those things, at certain moments. But people suspect that whatever good you do, you are faking. You’re that guy. You’re that guy that says this. There is a core of outlets that are pushing these stories out.

But though Baldwin eloquently diagnoses the problem, he cannot diagnose himself. And by turns, he propagates many of the uncivil discourses he decries, as well as some of those uncivil behaviors for which he, in his own words, has been vilified.

Baldwin is quick to publicize the shortcomings of others. Harvey Levin, founder of TMZ.com, has little regard for the truth. Rachel Maddow is a phony who doesn’t have the same passion for the truth off-camera that she seems to have on the air. Shia LeBeouf is sulky, resentful, and — in rehearsals for the play Orphansattacked me in front of everyone. And the liberal and conservative media are now precisely equivalent, at least insofar as they are both able to produce only tripe.

He is careless with his words. In the same breath that he laments having been labeled a homophobic bigot, he calls one person he met through an LGBT advocacy group in Hawaii an F-to-M tranny. This despite the fact that the term is widely regarded as offensive — equivalent to racial slurs used against people of color (for more consideration of the t word, see this piece in The Advocate, published just days before Baldwin’s).

And he is quick to believe that he is being wrongly persecuted. For him, journalists Andrew Sullivan and Anderson Cooper are the Gay Department of Justice, harrying him with the help of GLAAD and TMZ’s Harvey Levin for the mere crime of having made a series of actual anti-gay slurs, one of which may, according to Baldwin, have sounded like “faggot”—but wasn’t.

The issue with Baldwin’s essay is that even as it is implicitly a plea for civility, framed as an indictment of the increasingly toxic popular culture that is driving basically good guys like him away, it misses the civility mark itself. Baldwin is good at claiming and caring for his own identity, needs and beliefs. He identifies some serious issues, at least as they pertain to him. But he cannot quite manage to do so without degrading someone else’s in the process.

Alec Baldwin is right as far as it goes: the heart, the arteries of the country are now clogged with hate. The fuel of American political life is hatred. And the media, liberal and conservative, often masquerades as Hate Incorporated. But “Good-Bye, Public Life” does little to ameliorate the problem. And in parts, it does quite a lot to aggravate it.

Veterans, Military Families, and the Government Shutdown

In our last post we asserted that, even amid the incivility and intractability of partisan gridlock over the government shutdown, at least both sides had agreed to fund active duty military personnel. But while it is true that American soldiers will continue to be paid, that fact alone does not tell the whole story of how the shutdown is impacting troops, veterans, and military families.

CBS News is reporting today on comments made by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki that if the shutdown continues even until the later part of October, 3.8 million veterans will not receive disability compensation in November, and 315,000 veterans and 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents will see pension payments stopped. And it is reporting that already, the government shutdown has stalled the department’s efforts to reduce the backlog of disability claims pending for longer than 125 days.

Veterans, Military Families, and the Government Shutdown

Moreover, ABC News reports that because of the shutdown, the Pentagon has been unable to pay death benefits to the families of soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan. Once the shutdown ends, explains Bob Hale, Pentagon Comptroller, the processing will begin and the payments will be made — but they will be delayed.

What this means is that the families of five soldiers slain since October 1 will be unable to travel to Dover Air Force Base in Connecticut to witness the return of their loved ones’ bodies. And that they will not receive the $100,000 check meant to offset the financial hardship incurred by those deaths.

According to FOX News, the Fisher House Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to caring for veterans and military families, has stepped forward to cover death benefits for the families of troops who’ve been killed in combat.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the Pentagon’s failure to pay appalling. Speaker of the House John Boehner has called it disgraceful. And Senator John McCain has asked: Shouldn’t we be ashamed?

Now, if only there were so much agreement on ending the government shutdown that has created this problem in the first place.

Government Shutdown, and the Consequences of Incivility

In the interest of vivifying the consequences of the current government shutdown, here are some highlights from CNN.com’s list of which federal agencies and services are open, closed, and partially functional.

Government Shutdown, and the Consequences of Incivility

As a result of bipartisan stopgap legislation, active duty military personnel remain on assignment, and will continue to be paid. But only half of the nation’s 800,000 civilian Defense Department workers remain on the job.

Of NASA’s 18,250 employees, only 367 are at work this week. 212 of 4,195 employees of the Department of Education are currently working. Of the 680 employees of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 37 are currently in the office. And of the 1,460 employees of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 67 currently remain.

Only about half of the Department of Health and Human Services’ 78,198 workers are on the job during the shutdown. For the Department of Energy, it’s thirty percent — 13,814. Nineteen percent of the Department of the Interior’s 72,562 are in the office. And for the Department of Labor, it’s only eighteen percent of their 16,304.

Fox News reports that the IRS has just 9.3 percent of its workforce hanging around this week — about 9,000 workers. The Environmental Protection agency has retained just 6.6 percent of its workforce. Of more than 16,000 employees, just over 1,000 are on the job. And the Department of Commerce retains just thirteen percent of its staff.

According to the Huffington Post:

  • In Alaska, National Transportation Safety Board Investigators have all been furloughed.
  • In Colorado, the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit has shut down.
  • In Georgia, seventy-five percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 13,000 workers have been furloughed, and researchers have had to halt their studies.
  • And in Maryland, firefighters were forced to move a memorial service for a colleague killed in the line of duty when the federally run Fallen Firefighters Memorial was closed.

Bloomberg.com reports on IHS Global Insight’s estimate that the cost of the government shutdown amounts to approximately $300 million per day (that’s $12.5 million per hour). While according to Businessweek, Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics estimates that if the shutdown stretches for three to four weeks, it could cost the United States 1.4 points of growth.

Government Shutdown, and the Consequences of Incivility

This — all of this — is an example of what happens when intransigence triumphs over civility in the governing process. It is what happens when we mistake adversaries for enemies, and place personal gain or partisan point-scoring ahead of maintaining a baseline of common good.

The consequences of incivility are not abstract in this case. They are measured in wages lost and services not rendered. They are measured in research not done, progress not achieved, and lives disrupted.

And it has all been entirely avoidable.

Institute Co-Founders Featured in The Boston Globe

Eastern MassachusettsThe month of August saw Institute for Civility in Government co-founders Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath each featured independently in articles in The Boston Globe.

Early in the month, reporter Peter Schworm sought comment from Cassandra about cases in which discontent has bubbled over into shouting matches and heated exchanges, screaming and table-pounding, at municipal meetings around Massachusetts. A health board meeting in Hanson, for example, abruptly ended when one participant overturned a table. While meetings of school boards and town councils in Salisbury and Dracut have degenerated into shouting matches.

When asked about creeping incivility, Cassandra responded that “this stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum” — that “what you see is actually a reflection of the population at large.” She told Schworm that a reality-show culture, in which extreme views dominate the conversation, has crept into all corners of life. And that when “what gets attention gets edgier and edgier … people think ‘I have to do something bigger and bolder if I am going to make my point.'”

Meanwhile, later in the month, Tomas spoke to The Boston Globe‘s Calvin Hennick about a lawsuit filed by Robert Schuler against the town of Shirley, MA. Schuler, a former member of the town’s Finance Committee, had been barred from town property at the end of 2011 after public comments in which he seemed to threaten town selectmen with a gun. “The only question I have about the budget,” he is reported to have said, “is what have the selectmen done with this, if anything? Don’t tell me they haven’t done anything with it, or I’m going to pull my gun out and start shooting or something. It drives me nuts!’’

The American Civil Liberties Union defended Schuler, who eventually won his case.

When asked for comment on the situation, Tomas replied: “I think we get frustrated because we just don’t know how to work through issues…. We all need to take a deep breath and start over again and work through our issues before we get to a place where we lambaste one another.”

Peter Schworm’s full article, “Local Government Boards Feel the Sting of Incivility,” is available, complete with Cassandra’s comments, here online.

Calvin Hennick’s article, “Shirley Settles Lawsuit by Town Official Banned Over Gun Remark,” may be found by clicking here.

You can find more information about the Institute’s definition of, and approach to, civility here.