Magazine November 2019 Opinion

Civility Now

Civility

by Dustin Jayroe

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson

On Oct. 9, 1997, the third episode in the ninth season of “Seinfeld” first aired, entitled, “Serenity Now.” In it, Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) is advised to utter the mantra “serenity now” anytime he feels a swell of anger building up, in order to keep his blood pressure down. As with most of the NBC sitcom’s famous sketches, it is ridiculous, exaggerated and hilarious. 

And not so far from reality, apparently. This recurring joke of the episode was inspired by show writer Steven Koren’s real-life experiences. The story goes that Koren was riding in a car with his parents, who were arguing boisterously. Within the heat of the argument, Koren’s father yelled out, “Serenity now!,” which was later explained as his new rage controlling exercise. 

This has me begging the question: Should we take a page out of the Costanza/Koren playbook and adopt this ritual in our daily political discourse? As absurd as the postulation may seem, I don’t see why not. 

The divides across our political landscape are probably steeper now than they ever have been. While divisions themselves are nothing new, the canyons between the left and the right today feel unique to this moment in time. We have elected officials in some of the highest offices calling people names, retaliatory investigations into this and that, investigations into the investigations, and then investigations of the investigators. There is, on the surface, little to no common ground on basic fundamental policy. Issues that should be and have been bipartisan are now far from it. What’s worse, constituency litmus tests predisposing what opinions can and can’t be had. 

“You’re not a real Republican if you don’t support X.” 

“You’re not a real Democrat if you don’t support Y.” 

And Arkansans have, unfortunately, fallen into these same hives. We used to be different — a wild card — and that is part of what made us so special. Sure, we voted for George W. Bush in both of his elections, but we also elected Mike Beebe to be our governor within Bush’s second term. We had tendencies to vote red in presidential elections but blue locally for decades. Arkansans thought for themselves, regardless of party affiliation. In my mind, this current lack of civility has played a major role. 

These days, the other side is assumed as evil. The Democrats want to take away all of your money; Republicans don’t want you to have health care. Rather than try to find common ground on where our ideas overlap, we yell, “No,” and retreat back to our bunkers, complaining to the other troops on our side about how unreasonable they are being. 

Why don’t we instead yell, “Civility now?” 

This may sound as ludicrous as the phrase, but Democrats and Republicans agree on many more end goals than is lent credence.

For the middle class — Democrats want to raise the minimum wage; Republicans prefer trickle-down economics. Compromise: Regulate into the already passed corporate tax cuts that a certain percentage must be distributed to downline payroll. 

For health care — Democrats and Republicans both want costs for individuals to go down so that more Americans can afford coverage. Many Democrats believe “Medicare for All” is the best way to accomplish this, but Republicans argue that it can’t be paid for and many feel anxious about paying for other people’s benefits. 

Compromise: The more healthy people pay for health insurance, the lower costs will be (this was the reasoning behind the infamous “individual mandate” of Obamacare). One way to find some common ground is with the public option — every American is given the option to buy into Medicare or continue to utilize private insurance. Buy in and you are taxed more for it; don’t and you’re not. 

These may be rudimentary — simple solutions for complex problems, no question. But the point behind it all is that we can find the logical relations in our two bubbles to form them into a Venn diagram. But to find these commonalities we have to actually talk to each other without the slander and generalization; abstain from the primitive, disrespectful and presumptive behavior. 

Civility now. 

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Dustin Jayroe is the Editor of AY About You Magazine and Contributing Editor
for Arkansas Money & Politics.

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