Passion, Public Discourse, and Politics

Little League All-Stars. 

Heard the one about the candidate who was caught burning a flag on a fire built of banned books, while making out with his seventeen-year-old boyfriend in the back seat of his wife’s car, parked at the hospital where his special-needs child was undergoing emergency treatment for cancer? 

Me either.

Not yet.

But I think It’s only a matter of time, based on the incident I witnessed the other day. As I tugged open the door to the bank, a blast of high-tension air slapped me. I paused. Was a robbery underway? Something wasn’t right.

Acclimating from the doorway, I realized an argument was afoot. A woman stood strident, hand on hip: “They’re going to take away your Medicare! They’re going to take away your Social Security! Do you make over $300,000 a year? Do you?” She waggled her finger in the air, her voice shrill. Spittle flew as she spoke.

Her adolescent son stood beside her, encouraging her: “Good one, Mom!”
The object of her scorn, an older man,  stood at the adjacent window, attempting to complete his transaction. He twitched as her words landed, but offered no response. A smile, crossbred of bemusement and embarrassment, flirted with his lips. A third teller waved me to her window for service.

As the woman wrapped up her rant, collected her banking receipt and her son, and left, my teller eyed me merrily. “She was really wound up!” she said, inviting me to discuss the scene.

“Just a deposit, today,” I said, startled to find myself blinking back tears. 

My business concluded, I returned to my truck. I thought about emails that friends and family had forwarded to me that morning: “If this is true…”

If? I remember a time when most folks felt constrained from sharing unconfirmed rumors. Citizens clung, often passionately, to their political viewpoints, but there was a general understanding that unconfirmed rumors, ridiculous apocryphal tales, and baseless, vicious attacks on parties, candidates, programs–the other guys–don’t add value to the election cycle.

We left the character assassination to the experts, freeing ourselves to conduct ourselves like reasonable, decent people who care about one another, who share interests and goals. Even during election years.

The closer we get to November, the more I love a good baseball story. 

I’m grateful to live in a nation that practices public discourse. And I’m grateful for fellow citizens who care deeply about our country-deeply enough to participate with passion in our electoral process. But I long for the days when some veneer of civility gilded our political discourse.

Is it necessary? Is it truthful? Is it kind? We’re called to a certain type of speech, you know. We can start today.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)