Letter to the Editor: Civility and Leadership


I just finished reading another thoughtfully written article in The Talbot Spy by Al Sikes, a friend, author, and former Chairman of the FCC. It begins by referring to the pipe bomb incident, noting it is a manifestation of a larger problem. The piece ends with a call for truth and civil discourse which seems, in these times, just a pipe dream. Actually, the article ends with the following sentence: “I sure wish John McCain was still around.”

Well, just last week I conversed with a friend regarding the current congressional race in our district. We favor opposite candidates, but as friends we found common ground on some issues, one, in particular, being the need for national service. Somewhere in that conversation, John McCain’s name was mentioned. My friend proceeded to tear him down by questioning his bravery as a prisoner in North Vietnam, pointing out the way he treated his first wife, his terrible (courageous in my opinion) vote to not leave millions of Americans without health care and, in my friend’s mind, the shameless self-promotion by staging his own funeral. I was taken aback and almost speechless. The last person I heard denigrating John McCain was Donald Trump. Rather than bring up that wound, I chose to point out what Newt Gingrich did to his wife. My friend agreed Gingrich was equally shameful and our discussion continued without contention. I wondered later where the conversation may have gone had I chosen to defend McCain on any of the other assertions. Nonetheless, it was a quite civil discussion. We chose not to debate the merits or foibles of Harris and Colvin, and our friendship remains.

Achieving harmony in our country is not a pipe dream, but it will require better leadership. John McCain led his party and was known to be argumentative. He fought tooth and nail for positions, sometimes lost his cool, but was never intentionally personal. If he slipped on occasion, he was known to recognize such and apologize. Right now this country faces a leadership crisis. I wish John McCain was still around, but also wish for more leaders like him to stand on principle with integrity. For that reason, I voted for Jesse Colvin to replace Andy Harris as our representative in Congress. I do agree with a couple of Harris’s positions, but favor Colvin’s platform. In the final analysis, I cannot vote for someone who lacks the courage to call out the President for his divisive and acrimonious rhetoric. Veterans learn to obey orders and prepare for war, but our representatives should not show blind obedience They are elected to serve and protect the public. Right now we are not being well served or protected. Instead, our President behaves like a schoolyard bully, using language that divides our citizens. Gutless politicians stand around with their heads down and hands in their pockets. In some cases, their hands in our pockets. Putting country first is not achieved by denigrating other people or other countries.

Richard Marks

Letters to Editor

  1. Howard Freedlander says

    John McCain was a flawed person, as he likely would have admitted. Yet he stood for principles, both as a military officer and U.S. Senator, while developing legislative and personal relationships among Democrats. Just imagine he was considered a maverick for crossing the aisle to co-sponsor bills! He understood that compromise was not a dirty, contaminated word.

    And, yes, Richard, we’ll all trying hard to train friendships with folks expressing wildly divergent views. Genuine civility supersedes irreconcilable conflict.

  2. Richard Skinner says

    These are indeed contentious times with the country as divided as much or more than we were in 1970 when Vietnam and civil rights seemed poised to shred the fabric of American society. But today’s divisions may be worse still since at least part of the contention is over the very facts about which we argue. If someone believes without any evidence whatsoever that a global group of Jewish bankers manipulates the world, then it’s rather difficult to argue the claim since beliefs, not facts, are the currency of debate. If I deny the role that man-made pollution plays in climate change, despite all of the evidence that that relationship is substantiated by empirical data, argument and debate go nowhere and we are left shouting at each other.

    This week PBS’ Frontline has broadcast two one-hour programs entitled, “Facebook’s Dilemma,” which depicts the manipulation of the pervasive social media platform to create “false facts” that have led to violence and corruption of basic civic norms and practices, including voting. What’s more, Facebook shared private data of millions of its users without permission to enable targeting of groups of individuals for contrived images and events.

    And last spring, the fiction writer, Salman Rushdie shared this in THE NEW YORKER:

    “How to combat the political demagoguery that seeks to do what authoritarians have always wanted—to undermine the public’s belief in evidence, and to say to their electorates, in effect, ‘Believe nothing except me, for I am the truth’? What do we do about that?”

    Then, last week, we witnessed bombs being sent to prominent persons, two black men killed when a white man tried to enter an African-American church and was unable to gain entry and shot the two men who were apparently the first persons of color the killer encountered. Then, in Pittsburgh, eleven Jews were shot down as they worshipped in their synagogue.

    At another, earlier time in American history, we were divided over the issue of slavery and, more specifically, over whether blacks were humans or property. Then, too, one of the men who himself killed out of what he knew to be the righteousness of his cause said as he was about to be hanged until death, “I, John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” Americans went on to slay 620,000 fellow citizens in a civil war.

    The latter conflagration dwarfs in scope and numbers the current contention. But that war ought to remind us that we are not so different a nation that we will somehow avoid repeating the violence we have carried out in the past. And we should have impressed upon us by history (if not the present) that we are capable of great as well as vile deeds and that the line between the two is where words cease and violence begins.

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