On Wednesday morning, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis was running in a Washington, D.C., charity race when he collapsed. The Associated Press reported that he received CPR and was taken away by ambulance. In the 69 minutes that passed between that report and Sen. Tillis’ video message from the hospital, alive and well, the collapse of civility in American political discourse was put in stark relief.
While many people on Twitter from across the political spectrum offered prayers and wished Sen. Tillis well, many others instantaneously and compulsively broadcast vile contempt for a man with whom they politically disagree as his life seemingly hung in the balance. Callous comments included:
“The good news is it’s not his heart because he doesn’t have one”
“Getting what he deserves”
“One less thing to worry about”
“Put him in ice”
“Karma’s a b----, Thom Tillis…”
“He is a gigantic a-hole & right-wing ideologue. See-ya”
“Another seat in play for 2018?”
What kind of a society have we created when many of us are filled with such boundless hatred toward our political opponents that this kind of vitriol spews out in the face of tragedy? As others responded, “regardless of politics ... the man is a human being” and “party doesn’t matter when it’s someone’s life, people!” One person implored, “Can we all just put politics aside for a moment to pray for his health?” Sadly, the resounding answer was no.
We have become so blinded by the polarization and tribalization of American politics that we cannot see another person as anything but an ideology to be despised and defeated. In the politics of 2017 America, humanity has been replaced by hate. Both sides have undoubtedly contributed to the decay, but it’s up to each of us individually to turn the tide.
Civility in our discourse has seemingly eroded at an increasing rate in recent years – attacks that would once have been unthinkable are now commonplace. As Barack Obama recently observed, “We weaken our ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not just as misguided but as malevolent.” Paul Ryan shares the former president’s concern as he wrote, “It’s become increasingly common to vilify those with whom you disagree.” But Speaker Ryan also shares my hopeful vision, adding that “If we can move beyond the name calling and recriminations, we can find common ground and work together. Just by listening, we can learn a lot.”
I believe that if we hope for a healthy, prosperous nation, we can’t continue to demagogue our neighbors because they see the world differently. We must move beyond slander and seek common ground. By listening to one another, especially to those with whom we disagree, we can restore civil discourse – one conversation at a time.
With the news of Tillis’ good condition came promising notes of civility from across the aisle as one person wrote on Tillis’ Facebook page, “I disagree with everything you stand for, but I am glad to see that you are ok.” Yet another person crassly responded to seeing Tillis alive with the comment, “NC almost improved today.”
Thankfully, Sen. Tillis has recovered from his collapse. We now must pray that civil discourse in America does the same.
Pearce Godwin, a native North Carolinian, is founder and president of Listen First Project. He can be reached at Pearce@ListenFirstProject.org.