Helton: Does civility in politics even matter anymore?

Getting perspective amidst stressful politics seems futile, but remains necessary for humanity.

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Helton: Does civility in politics even matter anymore?

Elijah Helton, Opinion Columnist

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“I hate politics.”

That’s something I’ve been muttering a lot. Our free press is under attack. The White House used fake footage from InfoWars — actual fake news — to justify barring a reporter from its press pool.

Our immigration system is under attack. The president announced last week he would destroy our asylum laws in order to exclude desperate people.

Our elections are under attack; what were once recounts of close races are now screaming matches that cable news uses to fill time.

Like Howard Beale in Network, we’re all mad as hell.

Most days, it feels like our entire country is on the brink of collapse. I hear about civility and incivility a lot, but that’s just a ripple in the news maelstrom. Anti-Semitic acts of terror are on a steep incline. The president blames “gross mismanagement” for California’s devastating fires and not, you know, climate change. Speaking of climate change, have I mentioned it will devastate our crop yields, ignite history’s largest refugee crisis, and swallow us alive? Well, that’s also happening.

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Sometimes, none of this seems like my problem. I don’t fear for my life to the extent I’m willing to flee my country with hope of asylum in a foreign land. Climate change won’t destroy my livelihood, at least for a few decades. I’m privileged as a white man; I’m not mistreated by a sexist culture or by a racist justice system.

But that’s exactly why politics does matter. Whatever angst I feel seems puny compared to the massive injustice felt by survivors of sexual violence, victims of police shootings, and those too poor to afford health insurance. Political drama isn’t just a performance; it plays out into real life.

Heather Hayer was a real person who was killed by another real person, a white nationalist. Laquan McDonald was a real person who was killed by another real person, a police officer. Hate kills. Fear kills.

We must change to keep our humanity intact, no matter how wrong, disgusting, or evil the bad guys seem. The only way politics will change is if we change it ourselves.”

Voting will not cure the hate and fear that has infected our country. To be clear, the United States isn’t alone in this. From Brexit to Bolsonaro, the world has rerooted itself in old anxieties about people different from them and the unknown future.

But we can do better. We can follow the example of those who have led us out of darkness. Martin Luther King Jr. said decades ago, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

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We have to believe that. The alternative is a complete breakdown of our nation. Some worry those different from them will be the fall of the West, when in fact it is they who will topple our society. There must be a better way.

The only problem is I don’t have a better way, not really. I’m just another politics person who’s mad as hell. Perhaps the answer is imagining those we see as the bad guys as we imagine ourselves. Perhaps viewing ourselves as heroes has isolated those who don’t think we’re heroic. Perhaps seeing nothing but amoral and abject evil makes it impossible to see others as anything but amoral and abjectly evil. All I know for certain is we cannot keep on like this.

We must change to keep our humanity intact, no matter how wrong, disgusting, or evil the bad guys seem. The only way politics will change is if we change it ourselves. Success is not natural. Equality won’t fall into the lap of the persecuted. A happy ending is not guaranteed. There’s much to do, so let’s get to it.

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