The race for the 2016 presidential nomination got off the starting blocks last week as Republican presidential hopefuls held their first of many primary debates. For some onlookers, the electoral process is an exciting one. For others, it’s dreadful. With the tone of political campaigns, who can blame them? It seems that some wanna-be commanders-in-chief sound more like radio talk show hosts, spewing personal attacks and making unsubstantiated claims.
Look no further than billionaire Donald Trump to see how low politics and campaigning have fallen in the age of social media. During last week’s Republican debate, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Trump about his demeaning comments about women. She repeated words Trump has allegedly used in the past: “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” Trump’s glib response: “Only (on describing) Rosie O’Donnell.” After the debate, Trump said Fox’s Kelly unfairly attacked him and had “blood coming out of her whatever.”
There is little doubt that if a child used such crude remarks about other people, he or she would be spending days in time out rethinking those statements. So why should a presidential candidate be allowed to use these demeaning expressions?
It’s a question some Republicans are now asking.
Sen. Rick Santorum, a Catholic and Republican presidential candidate from Pennsylvania, issued a statement Aug. 10 condemning Trump’s venom.
“Enough is enough. We should and must address serious issues facing our nation, but name-calling and crass personal attacks is beneath the office we are running for,” said Santorum. “This needs to stop.”
Santorum called upon his fellow Republicans to end their sophomoric behavior and “focus on the contrast of accomplishment, experience and vision to lead our country.” Republican candidates Jeb Bush and Rick Perry have also publicly objected to some of Trump’s statements.
Hate is prevalent on social media. Just log on to Twitter during a presidential debate, type in a relevant hashtag and watch the negativity fly in 140 characters. However, it has no place in the running of a presidential campaign.
One of best speeches on the topic of civility in politics and society was delivered by then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan in 2003, when he addressed the State Legislature at the Capitol in Madison. His words (echoing the late Jesuit theologian, Fr. John Courtney Murray) ring true today as they did then.
“I speak with much conviction (about the need for civility) because if we lose this — and we’re in danger of doing so — we’ll lose our noble battles on all those other towering challenges,” said Archbishop Dolan. “Sometimes we can’t do much about all those other issues, but we can always do something about courtesy and civility. Sometimes more important than what we do is how we do it.”
So as the countdown to the 2016 presidential elections is underway, let’s hope and pray that candidates run their campaigns with civility and show the rest of us how honorable and dignifying debates and discourse can be. Not only in leading a country, but in leading our families.