Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Uncivil Behavior

I hear more and more discussions about uncivilized behavior. It seems very uncivil for people to be uncivil. It’s not very civil. The synonyms polite and courteous come to mind when we think about civil behavior. The uproar over our President’s uncivil behavior is both warranted and, I think, a bit overbearing.

Warranted? Of course. We want our presidents to act presidential. A president should be calm and wise and strong and a model of behavior for nine-year old boys and girls. He or she should wear lovely appropriate clothing with nice ties and grey business suits. When President Trump tweets and sometimes when he speaks at pep rallies, he seems more like a football linebacker’s coach than a president. His critics call him crazy but many of them have never been around some of my relatives. If you want to see crazy, that’s crazy.

So the hullabaloo over President Trump’s behavior is warranted. Only Roseanne Barr can create more of a stir. But is it all a bit overbearing? Are the critics a bit disingenuous?

My first point is that while we live in a very educated and civilized society, most of us do not always act civilly. My son is very civil. But when he feels that a driver needs a little education, he is quite colorful in how he provides the necessary education. Admit it, even your favorite philosophy professor has flipped off a driver who cut her off. Civilized? When you careen down a narrow hallway reading the latest exciting tweet from your mother on your iPhone and make everyone else jump out of the way, that’s not exactly civilized. And what about that stream of four-letter words that escape your once pristine mouth cavity when your cable goes out in the middle of penalty kicks? 

My first point is simple. We are very civil people who act civilly most of the time but when we think it is warranted, we act more like the Sharks at a Jets reunion party. So now the question is not if President Trump acts uncivilly, but under what conditions it might be okay for any president to on occasion act like a maniac. It might be to educate someone who proves hard to educate. We sometimes say it takes a two-by-four to get someone’s attention. Or it might be that it is simply hard to convince someone that he must change an old practice. You can’t teach an old dog a new trick. Maybe you can – but you must speak louder or carry a bigger dog biscuit.

That gets me to President Trump. While many of you romanticize the civility and beauty of our foreign friends, the truth is that managing relationships with foreign leaders is not much easier than planning a wedding. A country is defined as foreign because the people in that country have chosen not to have English as their national language and they insist on singing their own national anthems at sporting contests. They also seem to prefer employment for their own citizens, and if you ever decided to bottle your latest batch of brandy under the name of Armagnac, you would find your French friends are no longer so friendly. America first? Hmm. How about France first? How about Germany first? Is it not clear that China is first?

Point? Even with our closest foreign friends, the relationships are contentious. Just like you and your best friend Howie when you got into that fight over who is best, the Beatles or the Stones. Being best friends brings out both the best and the worst in us. Inasmuch, having a tough stance and using rough words with Canada does not mean we like Russia better than Canada. It just means there might be a lot at stake between close neighbors who each care very much about their own citizens.

Back to the two-by-four. The world in 2018 is not the world of 1946. Europe has more than overcome post-World War II rebuilding. Many Asian countries including China are not the poorest backward nations of the world. The economic relationships between the US and these countries are also not the same as they were 50 or more years ago. But it is very possible that there are remainders or vestiges of economic policies that do not treat the US equally in 2018. The world has changed, and the policies must mirror those changes. 

Changing those policies is not easy. Many Americans are frustrated that a patient, civil approach doesn’t change things fast enough. Somehow we have to get the attention of our friends so they fully understand that the most current relationships do not reflect the shrinking economic gap between the rich US and its trading partners. I don’t mind a little uncivil language and tough bargaining if it means that we move economic relationships to more appropriately parallel true economic disparities. The risk of tough talk and actions is more of the same. That's not what we want. We do not want a trade war or any kind of war. But knowing that our partners have their own domestic situations to protect, it won't be easy to get their attention. Continuing the same civil approaches we used in the past might not be enough.


  1. Getting their attention...Trump is good at that...but following through is much harder and if he does nothing then the old saying " the king has no clothes" is appropriate and regardless of the intentions the argument falls apart. High tech -mass communication world with third world countries becoming competitors is quite different and has some new rules. The goals of power (or at least keeping it), wealth and and progress trump I (no pun intended) being nice. So maybe Trump talk is needed but it is the exaggerations and mis information and clinging to his very right wing based that fuels the opposition's civility with anger.

    1. Partly right and partly wrong. The left had 8 years of power and then they had to put up with a party that wants to remove everything Obama did with his pen. It doesn't matter what Republican won -- he or she would have been hated and widely deplored by many Democrats. Yes, Trump is easy to hate. But any Republican would have been close behind and received plenty of uncivil communication.

  2. Good insight! Without changing what one is doing the results will continue to be the same.
    If our President does not argue for our position..
    Do we think China, Mexico or the EU will?

  3. Thanks Lary, I'm all for tough talk, many presidents have employed such bravado with debatable success. But I'm scratching my head to find any residual value in "Mexican rapists are infesting our country" and "The media is the enemy of the American people"; among about 500 other brainless statements. Even our allies know that confidence is quiet and insecurities are loud.

    1. Thanks Stephen. My post was about the need at times to get someone's attention through what might seem like uncivil behavior. The longer a situation prevails, the more difficult it is to get change. So tough talk and an uncompromising stance might be necessary. I did not, however, try to support or defend every blurb that comes out of Trump's mouth.