Who can inspire civility in the presidential campaign?

As the Trump and Clinton campaigns heat up the rhetoric, those who have already occupied the White House set a higher tone by their mutual respect toward each other. Perhaps the current candidates can learn now what they may learn later.

AP Photo
First lady Michelle Obama hugs former President George W. Bush, as President Barack Obama and former first lady Laura Bush walk on stage at the dedication ceremony of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington Sept. 24.

With the start of the presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, voters will now take a closer measure of the candidates with one important yardstick: their degree of civility toward each other. So far the rhetoric of disrespect has been high. Voters could use a few examples of how politicians should behave. They need look no further than the mutual respect often seen between those who have already occupied the White House – many of whom were once bitter foes.

Last Saturday, for example, President Obama and former President George W. Bush opened the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Mr. Bush helped launch the project and Mr. Obama, as the first black president, had the honor to see it finished. Their warmth toward each other was again on display. First lady Michelle Obama even gave Bush a hug, which made him glow.

A similar close relationship now exists between Bill Clinton and the man he beat in 1992, George H.W. Bush. They are not only friendly but have worked on projects together. Throughout American history, former presidents have often formed a bond based on the shared experience of making difficult decisions – a bond that was often missing during their days running for the office.

Why is this important to note?

At their last gathering in July after the shooting of five policemen in Dallas, Obama and his predecessor each spoke about the need for civil discourse in society, especially about race. Obama spoke of shared dignity and the “need to hear each other out.” And Bush warned that political arguments should not lead to animosity and dehumanization.

But Bush went further to say that civility helps people learn from the struggles and stories of their fellow citizens. In fact, he said, civil dialogue is about “finding our better selves in the process.”

His words are an echo of what Harry Truman said about his meeting with former presidents after his time in office: “Maybe a friendship with a person who has been through something like this could bring me to a different place as a human being; it detaches me from the old and gets me to a new place. It’s just a way of finding peace.”

Imagine if presidential candidates could learn to listen and value each other during a campaign in a way they might act after being president. Perhaps former (and current) presidents should meet more often in coming weeks to offer such advice about civility.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Who can inspire civility in the presidential campaign?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today