August 8: When I launched a virtual candidacy to challenge Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, it made an appeal based on “debt, decency, and diplomacy.” As the parts handling debt and diplomacy, along with some serious swamp-draining, have now been outlined, it’s time to expand on the campaign’s “decency” initiative.

After the divisive rhetoric and horrific atrocities of the past several weeks, the “decency” part is more important than ever. It’s long past time to put civility back into civil society.

Before going any further, let’s make clear that this isn’t some pie-in-the-sky appeal to an idealized but fictional past. The American public square always has been a bit rough-and-tumble, and the old saying is true that “politics ain’t beanbag.”

Equally true, though, is that certain customary guardrails have always been necessary to keep even hardball politics from going foul. There are norms of behavior, not legal, but cultural, that enable civil society to operate without deteriorating into raw hatred, anarchy, or oppression. (Here, I use a broad definition of “civil society” that includes both the political sphere and the nongovernmental institutions to which some uses of the term often exclusively refer.) Our founders recognized as much: Quotation books and websites feature verified quotes from Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Hamilton all declaiming that republics of free men cannot survive without public virtue.

This isn’t just about being polite, or about some namby-pamby odes to kumbaya. It’s about maintaining a realm within which the constitutional procedures of representative democracy safely can occur. Without maintaining at least some cultural norms, all the formal law in the world can’t save a polity from becoming a nasty, poor, brutish dystopia. If civil order fails, eventually the civic order will fail as well….

[The rest of this column is at this link.]


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