November 24, 2013 in Opinion

Bart Chilton: Bring civility to the political table this season

Bart Chilton
 

As Turkey Day approaches, partisans might learn from our family gatherings: suck it up and “get along to move along,” at least for a while. It’s a time to be thankful, be present and savor what we’ve accomplished together, rather than prepare for another policy brawl. Perhaps politicians might cease electioneering and ideological hostilities. Give Americans a break from negativity.

As the Beach Boys sing: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”

Let’s take a collective chill pill. In 30 years of government and politics, I’ve never seen the discord more disconcerting. Many would rather give “the bird” than share turkey dinner with adversaries. Many elected representatives deride each other. Battle lines are drawn deeply with perceptions of the “enemy” penned in stark stereotypes. Many on the right see wimpy weasels weakening the fiber and fortitude of the Founding Fathers. Conversely, some on the left see self-righteous swine swigging 80-proof bottles of patriotism and behaving badly. They do agree on one thing: They hate each other.

It’s unfortunate and sets a lousy example to the nation, let alone to the families who’ll soon sit prayerfully giving thanks, rendering patience and reaping what they’ve sown to begin a season of charity, joy and goodwill.

News programming magnifies the ideological yipping and yelling, replete with hyperbole-laced fits and close-to-the-edge epithets. Soft-spoken intellectuals have no place on the ’ol magic box. The result: Most folks increasingly consume a brief information bandwidth. Many have turned off and tuned out, seeking to preserve a quality of life for their families. Most sip the tea of their own biases, having grown intolerant with those whom they don’t agree. Right, left – it’s irrelevant. We know what we like and like what we know. But, we don’t know everything.

What’s to be done?

President Reagan said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” It’s where we gather, look in each other’s eyes, break bread, listen and understand, share laughter, ideas and visions of the future. It’s where we bow our heads, ask for gifts on behalf of others in need – for health, safety, hope and well-being – where we join selflessly in thanks. It’s a good place to start this season.

When we understand others’ concerns, we see beyond ourselves, comprehending how our needs may match. Listening. Understanding. Tolerating and enjoying crazy Uncle Joe without name-calling, raising issues without raising voices. Establishing a shared vision, a common goal: These are the fundamental steps of positive, lasting change.

This year, let’s add civility to public discourse and return to a nation bound by commitment to a common good.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Bart Chilton is a commissioner on the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the author of “Ponzimonium: How Scam Artists Are Ripping Off America.” His email address is bchilton@cftc.gov.


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