The loss of civility in the USA is real and concrete and will worsen unless Donald J. Trump and his administration seek to lower the temperature of the country. I do not see evidence of that happening so far.
Being civil to each other is the fundamental principle of courtesy which for years now has been a fabric that is stretched and threadbare, now to the point of tearing. The political election and most prominently pushed through the threadbare fabric of politeness we held dear. Under the theme of political correctness, the veil is torn and the ugliness it hid or held back is now coming forth.
Examples of this ugliness are everywhere and undeniable, to everyone except the new president-elect and his administration. They do not care that the people of this country are free now to express prejudice. That discourtesy towards others based on differences is now acceptable behavior.
A white man with a history if racial prejudice verbally attacks a woman working at Starbucks.
A group of middle school students chant, “Build that wall.”
Any personally I was called “white boy” outside Safeway just yesterday but a triad of young black men. That hasn’t happened to me since I was in Richmond working as a educator.
The question is where does the lack of political correctness and civility lead us?
I was discriminated against as a white man in Richmond. When cuts were to be made in administration I was cut in favor of a black woman with less qualifications, except that she was black. This was not a figment of my imagination, it was real. I was told directly but the Assistant Superintendent and Director of Personnel that “White males are not in demand in the inner city.” One of these women was white and the other one was black. I was also told that my complaint about this treatment was “whiny”. So I took myself to an area where white males were in demand, a mostly white area of the state.
I am sure that black people would say, “Welcome to my life.” A black person has a much narrower geographic option if in fact the statement that, “Black employees are not in demand here,” is a reality, if unspoken.
The anger about the discrimination I experience was real. I was angry that my skin color determined by employment status. But I remained polite. My anger didn’t go away quickly from that single incident but I did not take it out on other people. It is true that I looked a black people differently because I was surprised that having experienced so much discrimination that they would be to blatant about offering it up to me. I learned that discrimination is not a one way street.
But had learned that the way through discrimination was not to confront it with impolite language. It was to build relationships that were founded on politeness and courtesy. I knew from my years in Richmond that the way we speak to each other while we work through our anger, while we deal with our inner demons of bias, and while we suppress the impulses that do not represent who we want to be, is courtesy. It is politeness. It is political correctness.
I see politeness as a veneer that enables people to open conversation and conduct their lives in business, religion, and community. Courtesy is a form of patience that acknowledges that we may not always be the person we hope to be, the person we think we will become if we only suppress uglier feelings until they pass, or are replaced by new realities.
Has politeness become seen as an unnecessary custom that suppresses real feelings that people now feel the need and right to express? Perhaps courtesy is not to be replaced with coarse, direct expression of all prejudicial feelings and opinions. Perhaps we’ve lost patience with being nice to each other and somehow feel that the ugly side isn’t wrong and should be on full display.
I think we are in a dangerous time when disagreements often turn violent, and when violence often escalates beyond all reason in no small part due to the proliferation of guns.
I call on President-elect Trump to establish a norm of courtesy before it is lost, and the loss of self-control is out-of-control and leads to total disintegration of the fragile fabric of this society.