It's Not About Hating Trump: It's About Regaining Comity

Comity has virtually disappeared from the White House.
07/20/2017 06:24 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2017
Carlos Barria / Reuters

“Why do you liberals hate Donald Trump?” is a question I and many of my fellow left-of-center writers get asked in many forums—from Facebook to Twitter to Quora to the letters-to-the-editor of the “Washington Post” and the “New York Times.” When we write columns, or speak on cable news programs, voicing our opinions of the current White House resident and members of his administration, as well as the Republican leaders in Congress, no matter how politely we couch our criticism, we encounter a fire hose blast of ad hominem bitterness mixed with vulgar explorations of our parentage.

I cannot speak for the body of journalists who continue to speak truth to Donald Trump’s power, who point out inconvenient facts and false narratives, who bring their Diogenes-illuminated lamps to the White House press room and the halls of the House and Senate looking for honest answers to anything; I can only speak for myself as one of many journalists for whom the pursuit of truth is a sacrosanct mission. And I have done so in most of my Huffington columns written since Mr. Trump set out on his path of lies and deceptions.

Why do I do that?

Because, when I was traveling around the country as an Air Force brat in the ’50s and ’60s, I saw what America was at her worst when I lived in the deep South in the early 1960s—lynchings, bombings, and denied voting rights and unchecked police and legal powers. And willful ignorance. Ignorance of science, history, the arts, the humanities, ignorance of the world outside the limiting borders of self-centered hatred that festered in, and stained the fabric of our republic.

Because, when our family finally moved back to Washington where the potential of Civil Rights legislation held the promise of tearing down all of hatred’s scaffolding, I began to imagine that the future would have no room for such vile bile of inhumanity as I had seen.

Because I’m frustrated by what I see happening today here in Washington, my hometown. This is the city I was born in, worked in (for the federal government as well as the media), got married in, and near which we raised our children just across the Potomac River. To me, Washington is not just a capital city inside a concrete beltway; it is my home, and I want to feel the same pride in it I had when I could actual drive to the Lincoln Memorial at night, park in front of that beautiful building, and walk up the steps to visit in silence with Mr. Lincoln.

As I write this from my home in Virginia, it is July 20, the 48th anniversary of the first Moon landing. If you told me forty-eight years ago that America’s aspirations in 2017 would be in retrograde, that we would be in a downward spiral instead of a path to a higher plane of reason, and that the leaders of the country were willfully guiding us into a vortex of ignorance, selfishness, shame, and humiliation, I would have never believed it. And yet, here we are. And that is part of the reason why I write in daily opposition to what I see as a danger not only to America, but to our allies and to those who are oppressed anywhere in the world and who might look to us for comfort.

I wish I could be as eloquent as Maureen Dowd was today in her New York Times column, “Donald, This I Will Tell You,” but I wholly align myself with the intensity and honestly of her words. And she and I share a common thought as she put it so well:

I was born here. The first image in my memory bank is the Capitol, all lit up at night. And my primary observation about Washington is this: Unless you’re careful, you end up turning into what you started out scorning.

A few days ago, I responded to this Quora question: “What is something you have become resigned to accepting?”

My answer? Comity’s demise; the end of reasoned, fact-supported, and respected give-and-take debate between and among rational individuals.

Americans have lost, within a generation, the desire—if not the ability—to engage in the kind of rigorous and constructive debate of issues large and small (mostly large) that lead to genuine compromise and forward progress.

Comity—the respectful intercourse of dialogue between two or more people holding differing, but intellectually valid, points of view―has virtually disappeared from the Halls of Congress, the White House, and state legislatures (and, as I have witnessed here in my own community, from local civic forums).

Comity as I knew it and saw it practiced by statesmen, national leaders, and everyday citizens of my parents’ generation, has devolved into the sound and fury of pious posturing and stove-piped position-taking, rendering reasonable discussion untethered and helpless in the whining winds of self-righteousness.

Part and parcel with the demise of comity, are the rise of anti-intellectualism and a commensurate increase in distrust of once-accepted and prized cornerstones of academic rigor, personal and national values testing, scientific curiosity, and ethical accountability.

When I am asked, “Why do you hate Donald Trump?” I reply honestly that I don’t hate him; that would be waste of energy better directed at doing what I can, in my own small way, to keep the lamp of truth lit to spread its illuminating beam into the dark recesses of government that have become the realms of scoundrels.

We have come to a place where we can no longer enjoy and gain forward momentum from open and frank discussions of issues vital to the growth and prosperity of our nation. If we cannot rid ourselves of those who profit from hate and discord, we are dooming future generations to lose-lose shouting matches consisting of insults, accusations, and petulant pouting. And meanwhile, the world that used to look to us for leadership, will continue to turn away from the cage-fight that has become American politics.

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