Last week Senator Marco Rubio spoke passionately on the floor of the Senate about civility. As upset as many were with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s silencing of Senator Warren, Rubio pointed out, with genuine emotion, that “If we lose this body’s ability to conduct debate in a dignified manner, … then where in this country is that going to happen? In what other forum in this nation is that going to be possible?”
These were not rhetorical questions. Rubio spoke of the things he has heard said in this country that he never imagined would—or could—be said, concluding that if the Senate does not succeed in upholding norms of mutual respect and dignified deliberation, then “everyone of us, to our great shame, will live to regret it.”
The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza, a hardened and invariably cynical DC veteran, picked up Rubio’s speech and advised his readers to spend 8 minutes of their lives listening to it. Cilizza observed that the people he talks to about politics frame the same lament: “When did ‘reasonable people can disagree’ stop being something we believed in? Why can’t genuine debate not descend into name-calling? Why is confrontation the only way the two parties—and their leading politicians—seem to interact these days?”
I observe the same phenomenon daily on my Twitter feed. When the Washington Post tweeted out a recent op-ed that I wrote on America First, in which I tried to take Trump’s foreign policy ideas seriously and respectfully while nevertheless hitting back hard on his treatment of other countries and his concept of patriotism, one of the first tweets I got back said, to the Post: “what a wonderful vocabulary put in the hands of an imbecile. I bet you are very proud of this piece. Clown.”
That was one of the milder responses—at least it does not contain obscenities.