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Civility Matters

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A few weeks back, we posted a guest opinion piece on our website from the chair of the local Republican Party, John Schutt Jr., weighing in on the special U.S. Senate race in Alabama. We didn't know what to expect from Schutt when we solicited the piece but we were interested to hear what he had to say.

The race had been dominating national headlines for weeks after accusations surfaced that Republican candidate Roy Moore had preyed on teenage girls as a young prosecutor in his 30s. Despite the accusations — or maybe because their surfacing thrust the seat into play for Democrats, who hadn't won a Senate race in Alabama for a quarter of a century — the National Republican Committee had put its full support behind Moore. We asked Schutt to weigh in on the race.

To us, this seemed like a moment to stand up and be counted. Not only is Moore an accused child predator but he's also repeatedly voiced views that are simply antithetical to American values. He's twice been removed from judgeships for refusing to follow the law, called homosexuality a "crime against nature" that should be illegal and said Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress. With all that in mind, we wanted to see where Schutt — the head of a local party chapter that includes close to 20,000 people — stood. His take was pretty straightforward: "The Republican Party has no choice but to support Roy Moore for U.S. Senate in Alabama to keep the small majority it has."

Now we can absolutely argue that Schutt is flat out wrong. He is. As noted above, even pushing aside the child predator accusations, Moore's own words and actions should be disqualifying as he obviously fails to grasp three tenets of American democracy: the inherent equality of all people, the separation of church and state and the rule of law. Further, a majority that cedes morality to retain power isn't worth protecting.

So it was with a bit of whiplash that we found ourselves defending Schutt against online commenters on the Journal's Facebook page, trying to tell people that attacking Schutt's ideas was fair game but childish name calling and petty insults were not.

We bring this up as we put the Dumpster fire that was 2017 in the rearview mirror because it seems to underscore something we as a society have lost over this past year: the notion that civility matters. Over the last year, we've seen name calling and personal attacks become the norm, a seemingly inherent part of our politics at all levels.

It's gotten to the point where we collectively shrug when the president of the United States comes up with a diminutive nickname for a world leader and viciously attacks his critics, where we don't think twice when our own member of Congress responds to one of said attacks by tweeting about the president's daughter's plastic surgeries, where local elected officials grumble at their constituents during public meetings (we're looking at you, supervisors). This is a dangerous path, one that inherently leads away from understanding and unity.

As you read through our list of the top 10 stories of 2017, you'll see that Humboldt County faces daunting challenges, from crumbling infrastructure to an addiction epidemic. We're not going to make headway on addressing them in 2018 if we can't have conversations without insulting each other or retreating back into our ideologically safe camps.

As we enter the new year, we should renew our standards of decency at every level and know that when we read or hear something we vehemently disagree with and all we can muster in response is a petty insult, we are part of the problem.

We can all learn a lot from Danica Roem, who last month became the first openly transgender state lawmaker in the nation after winning a seat in Virginia's House of Delegates. After her decisive win, Roem was asked about her opponent, 13-term incumbent Robert Marshall who'd referred to himself as the state's "chief homophobe" and sprayed a host of petty personal insults at Roem throughout the campaign. "I don't attack my constituents," Roem told the reporter. "Bob is my constituent now."

If we want to address the many problems in this community, this nation and this world, we need to follow Roem's lead and recognize that decency is the only place to start.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400 or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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