Revisiting civility

Another call for political decorum

Super Tuesday, March 1, is traditionally one of the biggest single days in the presidential election season. Although results from Tuesday’s primaries (held in 12 states and in American Samoa) were not available at press time, up for grabs were 661 Republican delegates and 865 delegates for Democrats.

This round of campaigning for the White House has been arguably the most divisive on record. That is why it is good for us to take a moment and reflect on what we have seen and heard. Thanks to the vitriol espoused by a few presidential candidates, we wonder where civility has gone in our electoral process. Oftentimes, when we tune into a television or radio news report, we hear words, accusations or claims that defy logic and honesty, not to mention integrity.

That is why we need the voices of reason, the voices of faith to enter the conversation. The first to do so is Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans. In his column published Feb. 25 in the Clarion Herald, newspaper for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Archbishop Aymond asks some of the questions we have pondered. However, he also gives us some guidance.

The archbishop begins his column questioning — like we do — what has become of politics.

“What has happened, from my perspective, is candidates in campaigns no longer run on merit, their qualifications or their ability to lead, but run on the weaknesses of the other person,” he says.

He states that this mean-spiritedness begs the question: “What are we teaching our children and young adults about respect for those who disagree with them?”

Civility, from the Latin word “civilitas,” is defined as a formal politeness and courteousness in behavior or speech. Archbishop Aymond believes that politics today has abandoned civility. “I, at times, feel embarrassed and ashamed of the turn this has taken,” he says. Lack of civility is one reason why qualified people do not run for political office, he adds.

What can Catholics do to change things? First, speak out and “let the world know we do not want our political process to be defined by incivility,” says the archbishop. “It’s not of God.”

Secondly, we should learn to form our beliefs and consciences on what we understand to be just, moral and respectful of human dignity.

Archbishop Aymond explains that the U.S. bishops, in their document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which was revised in November 2015, outline four principles we as Catholics should consider in supporting a candidate. These include:

  • Respect for human life from conception to natural death. “Not only does it include abortion, but also euthanasia, the death penalty and caring for the poor and issues regarding biotechnology,” says Archbishop Aymond.
  • Family Life, which includes upholding marriage “as a great gift from God.”

“A candidate must be willing to do all he or she can to help a person form a family that gives respect to family and children. Family life also has to do with wages,” adds the archbishop.

  • Social justice. This includes many areas such as welfare policy, religious freedom, affordable health care and sharing the earth’s resources with the poor. “It also embraces reforming the criminal justice system and welcoming the stranger with the issue of immigration,” says Archbishop Aymond.
  • Finally is the principle of global solidarity. “What is the candidate willing to do to foster solidarity, for the elimination of global poverty, for religious liberty and human rights?” he asks. “We must ask how the person will work with the United Nations and international bodies.”

No candidate may support every issue mentioned in these four principles, admits the archbishop. “We have to decide which of them would best move our country forward in a way that reflects those qualities.”

Whatever is the outcome of Super Tuesday, we need to take back civility as a code of conduct in politics. Those on the ballot who defy our calls for respect and kindness in politics (and in life) should be shown the exit door.