Gov. Snyder this week issued an open letter signed by 220 well-intentioned people and groups calling for “civility” in public discourse.
That’s a good thing, right? We all want, as the letter says, “to show the world how we can disagree without being disagreeable, how we can debate without personal attacks, and how we can solve more problems together than we can apart.”
I think just about everyone also agrees that we can and should do better when it comes to political discourse. Frankly, we suck at it right now. We might as well not even have a two party system. Democrats and Republicans compromise on nothing, which is why the laws that are passed tend to be either far right or far left (these days mostly far right), which in effect makes fringe players of the majority in the middle. Which, I’m sorry, is just stupid.
So why, especially as a middle child, doomed to a life of trying to keep the peace, was I turned off by Snyder’s letter?
Well, first, because, in my experience, people who call for civility are usually the ones being the most uncivil in their words and deeds, especially when it comes to politics. They’re also usually the ones currently in power, meaning it behooves them not to have passions ignited.
For instance, Rick Snyder.
Of course HE wants civility. He’s spent the better part of his current term being roasted for his handling of the Flint water crisis, which was so putrid that Fortune magazine named him one of the world’s 19 most disappointing leaders, saying “Called to testify before Congress, Snyder, who touted his competence in his gubernatorial campaign, labeled the experience the “most humbling” of his life — then attempted to shift blame,” earning him the magazine’s “Don’t Blame Me, I’m Just The Governor Award.”
Snyder’s election mantra was “relentless positive action.” But ask the people of Flint their opinion of his sudden call for civility and my guess is they’d react with a relentlessly uncivil flip of a finger, and no one would deserve it more, given his administration’s grudging, slow-roll response to the crisis.
The truth about civility is it’s grossly overrated in some instances. Again, ask Flint. It was incivility, in fact – a refusal to no longer stay quiet and accept the treatment they were getting from the state, including an official telling them to “relax” as tainted brown gunk poured from faucets – that finally brought the water crisis to light.
If citizens hadn’t fussed and fumed, it’s likely more people would have died (to date, at least 12 people died from Legionnaire’s disease tied to the water and 79 were sickened.)
If they hadn’t shown up at forums clutching bottles of yellow water, if they hadn’t scrawled angry messages in chalk on the sidewalks outside Snyder’s posh downtown Ann Arbor condo, even more children would have been at risk of developmental issues tied to lead.
Local and state government wasn’t in any hurry to fix the water. Instead they seemed more interesting in downplaying or dismissing it. If the citizens of Flint hadn’t demanded answers and “relentless positive action,” there’s a good chance they’d never have gotten it.
And this thing would have gone on and on.
So let me politely say this: Civility is in the eye of the beholder, Mr. Snyder.
Sometimes being uncivil is the most civil thing you can do.