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Civility in Society

Earlier this month I was back in Washington DC to play in a charity golf event at my former golf club, The Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. At the dinner, on Saturday night former President Barrack Obama (a member of the club) and Tony Kornheiser sat down and had a conversation for those in attendance. President Obama did a wonderful job. At one-point, Kornheiser asked him what he did all day now that he was no longer President. He replied that he did speaking engagements, worked on his library and goals they set and yes, he was writing another book. He then opined that it would probably not sell near as many as Michele’s book, but he was OK with that.

President Obama spoke again this week at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago. He had a particularly salient message for young people. He directed his comments to the “politically woke” people and commented that is growth seemed to be accelerated by social media and groups on campus. His message to them was simple: “Get over it!”

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“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised, and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly,” the two-term Democrat said. “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and share certain things with you.”

I was not a fan of Barrack Obama as a President. I disagreed with many of his policies, but I always had respect for him as a person. He appeared to be a loving husband and a wonderful father. He remained in the Washington DC area (something other Presidents never did) so his children could finish school.  

In that discussion, he also said, “Then I can sit and feel pretty good about myself because, man, you see how woke I was, I called you out,” Obama said. “That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.” 

We need political leaders on both sides of the aisle to remind us that we are all Americans and while we may differ on policy goals hopefully, we all want the same thing in creating a better country. We should all want opportunities for our children and teach them that just because someone does not agree with you on a subject does not automatically make them either wrong or an evil person.  

Unfortunately, we see more and more of this intolerance in our society, particularly on college campuses. Young college students seem to be less tolerant and rigid in their beliefs than previous generations. They need safe zones where nobody can offend them. I highly doubt this is preparing them for real life in the workforce where I can assure them their feelings will be hurt many times. Not everyone in the workplace gets a promotion, not everyone gets the raise they think they deserve and certainly, not everyone accepts your beliefs as correct at the expense of their beliefs.

Contrast the comments by Barrack Obama with those of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz today in a hearing in the House of Representatives. The hearing was held to discuss the administration’s decision earlier this summer to suspend a program that delayed deportations of some illegal immigrants who were seeking emergency medical treatment. The decision was reversed a month later. But that was not good enough for the Congresswoman from Florida. She called the witness, Ken Cucinelli, a “white supremacist” and proceeded to berate him for several minutes before asking him for some arcane data that was not the subject of the hearing. When he replied that he did not have the data with him since it was not the subject of the hearing she retorted “I can ask any question I like.” When Mr. Cuccinelli attempted to respond to her attack, she tried to cut him off and never allowed him to speak. She then gave back her time after stating “You and Mr. Trump don’t want anyone who looks or talks differently than Caucasian Americans to be allowed into this country,” And then went further by stating that: “You want to block all immigration and make life harder for immigrants and you have demonstrated that you will pursue this heinous white supremacist ideology at all costs, even if it means making critically ill children your collateral damage in the process.”

This is what Congress has been reduced to these days. Instead of asking a witness a question and listening for the response Ms. Wasserman-Schultz was there to make a political statement and to show how “politically woke” she is and not interested in an exchange of ideas.

We need to find a way to return to civility in both political and social life. I am afraid that the combination of social media and the 24-hour news cycle may make that a thing of the past.

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