Virtue and Civility in Politics


Brent Hill the past President Pro Tempore of the Idaho Senate is a good man. The few times I have had the privilege of interacting with him he has treated me with dignity and respect. He announced yesterday that he was going to Head an organization called “The Next Generation Program” which is sponsored by the National Institute for Civil Discourse. Apparently these organizations put on workshops for members of state governments to help them learn civility,

I believe today that the words politeness and civility are oftentimes misunderstood. Both words describe a means to an end. Politeness is showing respect for those you are dealing with and to respect others you must first respect yourself. At its best civility requires the exercise of virtue(s). In my Catholic Catechism there are 7 basic virtues identified faith, hope charity, courage, providence, justice, and temperance. The moral virtues form the foundation of a Christian life and are outward manifestations of the inner man. The moral bases of civility is the Golden Rule. Without this moral bases there can be no civility politeness-maybe, civility, no. It is this distinction that allowed the ancient philosophers and Hebrew fathers to understand that teaching civility was pointless unless there was a fundamental understanding of the virtues. For an example of civility in practice I would recommend to you “Googling” Senator Risch’s Senate Committee interrogation of Jim Comey.

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Sometimes understanding the fine points is important. C. S. Lewis opined that “people exaggerate their differences because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of fact” Most of us intuitively distinguish between prudential and providential truths. The difference between issues of fact and process and issues to which we are asked to apply tenants of our faith for me right to life is such a providential issue and a tenant of faith, is an important distinction.

Divisive words like liar, fascist, leftist are used in just about every imaginable fashion. How does the term racist make sense for those advocating for reasonable immigration policy? The improper use of words is often a cheap and circuitous way of framing an argument by lazy people. In this day and age of virtue signaling and virtue narcissism I have been accused of both which always gives me pause that we must be suspicious of words and pay attention to the actions of those using words.

In this regard I am reminded of two incidents that happened during the last legislative session in Idaho. The first happened when there was a groundswell movement by Republicans in both Houses to file a resolution of support for President Trump during the impeachment proceedings. Over two days a large number of legislators came to support such a position until leadership from both Houses and maybe from the second floor decided that this wasn’t a fight they needed to be involved in. Several other State Legislatures proceeded with such a resolution and it was a wonderful time for the States to exert some political influence reaffirming in a Federalist fashion our support for our President. No Courage No Virtue.

The second incident occurred at the very end of the legislative session when the Senate Leadership specifically the Pro Tempore blindsided our Lt. Governor taking over traditional responsibilities of the Lt. Governor and placing them back into the hands of the majority party leadership. If this was in fact reestablishing a constitutional principle it should have been done at the beginning of the session and not at the very end on the heels of an announced retirement. Civility requires confrontation many times even when it is uncomfortable.

So is acting in a clandestine undercover fashion to consolidate one’s own power within a single party outside the constitutional construct of propriety a virtuous action? Is it even civil? Is speaking in a civil fashion but acting in an uncivil way demand a “civil response”? Cannot passionate words and actions also be civil?

I personally feel that many politicians hide behind the cloak of civility because they don’t have the courage to confront many of the evils that are present today. As Barry Goldwater reminded us “moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue”. No virtue=no civility. Think Mitt Romney. I can get uncivil very quickly when discussing abortion, or the loss of due process for Judge Kavanagh.

The way the Republican special interest lobbyist establishment has treated our Lt. Governor has not been courageous. It has not been virtuous. It has not been civil. Our Lt. Governor finds herself in the same position today that Mr. Trump was in 5 years ago. She is fighting”deep state cronyism” and as Mr. Hill proved at the end of the legislative session these fights aren’t civil. It is a shame that such a good man left on such an uncivil note.

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2 thoughts on “Virtue and Civility in Politics

  1. Dr. Livingstone I’ve enjoyed your prior articles & agree that there should be shared civility & respect between citizens & their public servants.
    I became a conservative activist 30 plus years ago while serving as president of a large statewide 2nd Amendment organization. My responsibilities required direct participation & attendance in local & state government hearings concerning the preservation of citizen’s 2nd Amendment Rights. I was elected president in the early 1990s Clinton gun control years because my 2nd Amendment related occupation required significant coast to coast travel & close associations with many like minded citizens , organizations in many states. Naturally vote-seeking politicians were also included.
    I can say without exception the many politicians I spoke with ‘in public surroundings’ were always exceptionally courteous & often bordering on going overboard.

    Unfortunately the state that I served in was controlled by liberal democrats. Maintaining citizen’s 2nd Amendment Rights in city or legislative hearings was always opposed by ruthless & often nasty attacks by leftist democrats.
    We as a 2nd Amendment organization only won battles where we could rally large numbers & most of all assure our anti-American opponents that we had the numbers required to defeat them if they continued to promote their latest assault on the Constitutional Right, that was ‘created’ to protect citizens from overthrow from within. It was during these early years that we also learned that respect , smiles & courtesy from politicians usually gets parked at the door, especially when their legislation promotes increasing political & lobbyist benefit$ over our individual rights & pocketbooks.
    Fake state & national medias have insured that we never hear Citizen’s side of battles, unless it concerns some liberal cause.
    **Politicians are in a unique category where respect is & must be earned by their deeds or miss-deeds.
    (The government we have today is nobody’s fault but our own tolerance to accept abuse.. )
    Our Nation’s Founders provided Citizens with a simple & lawful path to promptly fire any public servant who’s record documents that they have violated their Oath of Office Employment Contracts. Decades of shameful subservient citizens have empowered our public servants to become a mafia of wealthy bandits who tell us what to do. I thought when the Oath Keepers organized that they might be the answer. When i met with their leadership they also balked at enforcing peaceful reform, stating that this was not their job & confronting the perps with the evidence exceeded their level of comfort.
    It took a few decades for me to stop beating dead horses & realize that it’s impossible to help people who have no will to help themselves. But who knows, maybe now that we have a true-American President with guts & constitutional stamina there will be citizens who now decide to become part of putting America back on it’s foundation.

    ~President Trump was elected largely because he wasn’t a career politician. President Trump will very likely be re-elected because he is the first president & politician that I can recall in my 77 years that has kept his promises.~
    His ‘Clean The Swamp’ promise has unseated many politicians & the lobbyists who selected & elected them in both parties. Many are surprised Trump has survived this long against felonious assaults by treasonous Democrats , rogue Federal agencies. It’s a good time to become part of a good cause & do something honorable.

    The abuses below provide good reasons to replace our swamp’s gators with Real Republicans ;

    -Mr. Bieter assumed his father’s legislative seat when his father died. Soon after his appointment Citizens for Annexation Reform proposed legislation to replace Forced Annexation of County Property owners by Developers & replace Taxation without representation & theft of property rights with voting-rights for those effected.. When asked how he would vote, Mr. Bieter responded by stating ,,, I’ll never vote to give you-people the right to vote.

    – A few years back Idaho Citizens overwhelmingly voted for & passed TERM LIMITS; Our Vote was rejected & overturned by legislators both parties.

    -Gov. Otter; Just prior to Otter’s last re-election he terminated Citizen’s open internet access to our Legislature’s Public Records website. Citizens must now apply personally & specifically through an Ombudsman that he put in place & pay for a court-order to obtain what is now considered sensitive information. This dictatorial assault against citizen’s access to representative government was published by the Statesman at that time & was not publicly opposed by any of Idaho’s so-called Tea Party groups. As a life long republican I could not believe that even corrupt republicans would stand for this action.
    I became aware as editor of the www.voteforabetteridaho.org website when that-day direct-links on the website to the legislature that documented corruption & conflict of interest within Idaho government were suddenly terminated..

    ~2020 ELECTION COULD BE LAST SHOT TO SAVE AMERICA~
    If America’s citizens are too meek to ‘peacefully’ restore representative government by removing documented rogue public servants. Second Amendment Rights are of no value to cowardly citizens…

    1. Mr. Chuck Thomas. I am flattered and humbled by your kind response. I could not agree with you more. The problem we have today crosses all aspects of society——government, the church, schools, civic organizations etc. Many Catholic Priests in our State see the people as servants to themselves and not the other way around. Same with our politicians. I am a proud Barry Goldwater Conservative. I had occasion recently to talk to several politicians from DC who were from Texas and Ohio. They told me they thought Idaho was one of the most corrupt States politically in the Union. They were themselves talking about a State dominated by fellow Republicans. They all said that John Kasich, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan would be very comfortable with Idaho politics. I suggested the Bush boys also and they agreed. I believe the Governor’s Cup is a perfect metaphor for what is wrong with the Idaho Republican party. Lobbyists paying for access—not to mention the price of admission, for politicians elected by the people. And our elected leaders walk through the gates like sheep or cattle. We need to support people like our current Lt. Governor. She has more courage and is more principled and honest than the entire leadership at the Statehouse. Time to shake things up. MAGA

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