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Back in May, the Washington Post published a picture of Keith Schiller, President Trump’s pre-Secret Service body guard with a Post-It note stuck on a stack of papers. Clear as day on that little slip of paper was Defense Secretary James Mattis’ cell phone number. The Post pulled the picture when notified but not before quite a few people called and filled up the SecDef’s voice mail.
One of the messages Mattis did not delete came from Teddy Fischer, a sophomore at Mercer Island High School near Seattle. The Seattle Times explains:
…Mattis told Fischer that his message was compelling, in part because Fischer is a student, and in part because Mattis grew up in Washington state along the Columbia River, and graduated from Central Washington University.
“I just thought I’d give you a call,” he said in the interview.
“I’ve always tried to help students because I think we owe it to you young folks to pass on what we learned going down the road so that you can make your own mistakes, not the same ones we made.”
A couple of days ago the story went national. Quotes from Fischer’s interview were pulled by all sorts of publications, from Salon to the Boston Globe to London’s Daily Mail. The most important topic covered in the 45-minute session also seems to be the one almost universally ignored — the breakdown of civility, in society in general and in politics particularly.
“I think the first thing is to be very slow to characterize your fellow Americans,” said Mattis. “…I get very, very concerned when I hear people start characterizing their opponents as stupid. I still understand that because politics is a little rough and tumble at times, but I don’t buy it and when they start calling each other either crazy or evil. You and I, we don’t compromise with crazy people or evil people. And so, I don’t think that’s helpful. Generally speaking, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them crazy or evil.”
That really is the problem, isn’t it? If we first demonize our opponents then we aren’t compelled to listen to them. Their very nature compels us to ignore them and dismiss their thoughts. Each side has retreated to the safety of its own bubble, safe from the crazy and the evil that lurk on the outside. Compromising with the crazy or the evil? Why that would be downright treasonous.
In the musical play 1776, Ben Franklin says, “Treason, eh? Treason is a charge invented by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers.” In the current political climate there are those that seem to want to turn that one around, as the losers now seem intent on hanging the winners. If we don’t make a concerted effort to return civility to the public discourse a lot of what we’ve seen since last November is going to look like an amble through the park.Published in