The Politics of Civility - or the Lack Thereof -- Sunday Political Brunch July 1, 2018


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – We live in one of the most caustic political times that I can ever remember. Look, politics has always been a sharp-elbowed, go-for-the-red-meat business. Those who want to reflect on a more “Ozzie and Harriet” time in U.S. politics, are recalling an era that never really existed. But, there have been times of great civility in our country, that were much kinder than we have now. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The Sander’s Supper Slight” – The recent incivility in politics probably reached a fever pitch last Friday night when White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and her party were asked to leave the “Red Hen” restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, simply because she works for President Trump. Forget the politics of it, it’s just plain rudeness and bad manners. Yes, the owners are entitled to their own politics, but to deny someone their dinner because of it? Imagine the outcry in Los Angeles, if Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) – an African-American – received similar treatment. She and her family and supporters would be outraged.

“Trump Tweets Tempest” – But incivility is a two-way street. As you might imagine, President Trump took to Twitter to vent. "The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!" Trump said. Just as two wrongs don’t make a right; two examples of incivility, do not create a civil conversation.

“It’s Gone Too Far” – This week Sarah Sanders was granted temporary Secret Service protection. I know of no other White House Press Secretary to be provided that level of security. What it tells you is that she is receiving death threats, some of which are credible. That’s scary! All press secretaries are lightning rods for the boss. That’s part of the job. But to threaten death over a political policy dispute – and a dinner - is so far out of bounds, it’s hard to comprehend.

“The Cake Baker Comparison” – Many defenders of the “Red Hen” owner’s action said this is no different that the Colorado cake baker who recently won a Supreme Court case that said he could not be compelled to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The baker said forcing him to make the cake violated his First Amendment protected religious beliefs. The gay couple could have had a different bakery make the cake. The Court was trying to strike a balance between the rights of the couple and the rights of the baker. The “Red Hen” case is apples to oranges. There’s no conflict of religious rights here. The owner probably is not violating Sander’s rights, because she can serve or not serve whomever she wishes – as the sign says, “No shirts, no shoes, no service.” But if the denial is based on gender, religious, or racial criterion, watch out.

“The Politics of Strange Bedfellows” – Who was Senator Ted Kennedy’s (D-MA) best friend in Congress? Fellow Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) was very close, but Kennedy’s closest pal was Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). How is that that a hard-drinking, womanizing, liberal senator from the East Coast, would pair-up with a teetotalling, conservative Mormon, from the West Coast. They and their wives were frequent dinner companions. As senators they disagreed wildly on the issues, yet they loved and respected each other and could break bread at the end of the day. What’s wrong with that?

“The Gipper and the Tipper” – If you thought Senators Kennedy and Hatch were light years apart politically, they were probably soul-mates when compared to President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, (D-MA). They fought like dogs during the day, and said some pretty harsh things about each other. But that all ended at sunset. The two Irishmen would often gather at the White House for whiskey, cigars and chatter. “Friends after 5 O’clock,” was how they described it. I’m not suggesting that President Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gather at the White House for Margaritas, but it would be nice if the two could have a civil and productive lunch to exchange ideas and find common ground on something.

“Keep Hope Alive” – Okay I am stealing from the famous speech line from Reverend Jesse Jackson. But there’s a point here. Amid all the controversy over family separations at the border, who is trying to craft a compromise bill? Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), one of the most liberal in the Senate, is teaming with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), one of the body’s most arch-conservative members. Will it bear fruit? Who knows. But at least two very different people are trying to reach across the aisle trying to find a solution. That’s huge!

“Why All This Matters” – We are Americans first; Republicans, Democrats, independents and others later. It would be nice sometime, to see the warring factions find common ground and work together on some issues. As disparate as Democratic President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) were, they found common ground on bills dealing welfare reform, crime, telecommunications, and more. They got a lot done together – including the first balanced federal budget in who knows when. Of course, it all went out the window when impeachment hearings began, but they did get a lot of significant work done together before then.

What is your favorite story of political conflict, or cooperation? Just click the comment button at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst and author. He is now Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and surrounding states.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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