Marco Rubio made a wise plea for civility the other day on the Senate floor, and it’s a rallying cry for a much wider range of people than senators.
For someone who’s worked as a commentator over several years, I’ve resisted a lot of temptations to comment on politics quickly over social media. I’ve gotten into the habit of preferring to tweet lines from Daily Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours.
For news, besides the Good News, I try to highlight the more uplifting content (it exists, really) in an attempt to encourage people during what can often seem overwhelmingly angry, noisy, dark days.
The last thing the world sometimes needs is another tweet about the president’s last tweet. And I prefer Pope Francis’s daily homily to the latest commentary on Amoris Laetitia.
That said, I have a far from perfect track record here. And I succumbed the night Donald Trump announced Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for the Supreme Court.
I made what I thought was a fairly uncontroversial point on Twitter: that we live in “odd” times, which could certainly be an appropriate response to a whole host of things in the world today. And the focal point for my not particularly profound or partisan point was the fact that there were protesters outside the Supreme Court instantaneously opposing Gorsuch as a radical extremist.
Of course, it became one of my more re-tweeted tweets, and did not bring out the best in people in some of the responses from every political persuasion.
Two thoughts that couldn’t fit in a tweet: As many people pointed out to me in response, there tends to be a professional nature to these protests, especially ones where news coverage is guaranteed. I understand.
So, this wasn’t your suddenly activated neighbor having gone to the Fed Ex Office and putting down money for multiple protest signs for at least two possible candidates.
The “odd”-er aspect I was referring to, though, was the idea that anyone could be so invested in opposing someone who the country, relatively speaking, was introduced to just moments before. Wasn’t there a time when we slept on it? Maybe gave him a chance to speak first? How invested can most people be in opposing him already?
Indeed, Gorsuch does appear to be a human being and all, reportedly admitting that the president who nominated him tweeting about a judge’s ruling is demoralizing. Honest. He may have just inoculated himself with a reasonable senator or two, who might have otherwise fallen into the “radical extremist” “war on women” battering ram.
The other day when hysterics over the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary were in their final hours, Marco Rubio went on the Senate floor and made a plea for decency. Civility was his word.
I know people for whom the word is irritating, because it often itself is politically manipulated. Or it seems lazy – where’s debate if we’re being civil? But it’s no breaking news that we’re living at a time that isn’t always overflowing with substantial debate.
As the Florida Republican put it: “We are becoming a society incapable of having debate anymore.” It can be done. The late William F. Buckley, Jr., founder of National Review, often modeled it on his long-running public-affairs show, Firing Line. This is a time for relearning the art.
Rubio has hopes the Senate could lead the way. It’s worth a prayer. And, for all of us to give it a try in what are increasingly heated conversations about just about everything in the news.
“We are reaching a point in this Republic where we are not going to be able to solve the simplest of issues because everyone is putting themselves in a corner where everyone hates everybody,” Rubio said. It’s not just the American Republic though, is it?
I’m watching it constantly on social media as Catholics comment on news stories having to do with not just Donald Trump but Pope Francis.
In the years when National Review Online was developing on a wild west of the Internet, and blogging instantly on news was a new thing, a writer said to me, then editor of the website: “Lopez, they don’t give awards for getting it wrong first.”
These days, it seems there are no consequences if you do. He who frames things loudest and first wins the narrative. As a cardinal once put it to me about the religious-liberty debate about the Barack Obama administration’s mandate that brought the Little Sisters of the Poor to the Supreme Court, if you say something untrue often enough, it almost becomes true, so many people believe it to be true.
So, what do we do? Insist on something better, by leading the way.
I see lots of people despairing and quitting social media. How about sanctifying it? Share something uplifting. Show a little humility. Pray for that person who just posted something taking aim at your beliefs, and go out of your way to say something loving about that other post about his son’s achievement.
As important as politics is, it isn’t everything. And it’s in the leading with love in this and every other aspect of life that it will ever get better.
(Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.)