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Teresa M. Bejan (Fellow 2013-2014) in The Washington Post

Fellows, SOF Fellows

March 13, 2017

An article by Teresa M. Bejan ('13-'14) appeared in The Washington Post on March 8, 2017.

You don’t have to be nice to political opponents. But you do have to talk to them.
To keep American democracy intact, our conversations must be just civil enough.
By. Teresa M. Bejan

In our divided nation, it seems civility has gone out of fashion. In his inaugural address, President Trump called for Americans to prioritize openness, honesty and the need to “speak our minds.” At the time, the president’s demotion of the theme of civility (rhetorically central to both of his predecessors) shocked no one. More surprising, perhaps, is the speed at which partisans on both sides — including some of his fiercest critics — have taken his advice to heart. As Democrats settle in for a long winter in the opposition, President Barack Obama’s high-minded encomia to conversational virtue have been replaced by calls for conscientious incivility as a sign of resistance to the new regime.

Confronted with an amateur politician determined to bring his distinctive brand of Twitter-based ad hominem to the White House, what’s a member of the opposition to do? For some on the left, an extension or even escalation of the war of words characteristic of a bitter campaign season seems like a reasonable response. When the president attacks a member of the judiciary as a “so-called judge” or wishes Happy New Year to his “many enemies, ” civility appears, at best, a loser’s game. At worst, going high at each new low is a moral mistake that will only serve to normalize the status quo. Now, supposedly, is the time to call a spade a spade — or a “fascist,” as the case demands. A troubled observer might note that the distance between successfully labeling someone a fascist or a white supremacist and legitimizing the use of force to silence his uncivil speech is short, indeed. Even the New York Times has suggested that it may be okay to punch a Nazi. Continue to full article >>