- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 2, 2019

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 30

Americans of all political persuasions agree on at least one thing: Civility in this country is definitely taking a turn for the worse. Instead of finding ways to discuss their political, religious and social differences, Americans are lashing out in increasingly harsh ways at those with opposing views.

The ninth annual “Civility in America” poll indicates an increased concern around the country about the way Americans interact with each other. When the poll started in 2010, 65% of respondents cited incivility as a major problem. That held steady until 2016, when the percentages started jumping higher.

Sharp political disagreements manifest themselves in often destructive ways. Poll respondents cite online bullying, violent behavior, harassment, hate crimes and discrimination. People feel less safe in public places, and they believe incivility leads to less overall community engagement. In other words, the longer it goes unchecked, the more our nation’s social fabric frays.

Respondents, by a wide margin, blame social media, followed by the White House and politicians in general. The news media, political and social activists, and Hollywood celebrities also take some blame, though to a lesser extent.

Republicans say the top three topics they avoid discussing to avoid an uncivil backlash are, in order: politics, President Donald Trump and the proposed border wall with Mexico. Democrats cite the same topics, although Trump takes the top spot, followed by politics. Among independents, topics to be avoided are Trump and LGBTQ equality.

Americans increasingly view their workplaces as a kind of safe haven from incivility. In 2011, 43% experienced an array of unpleasant encounters in the workplace, but those percentages have steadily dropped, reaching 23% in 2019. Warnings or disciplinary actions by workplace supervisors are cited as a big factor contributing to an improved workplace climate.

Among other efforts poll respondents agreed as needed to improve the climate for discourse:

Parents should teach civility to their children.

Everyone should strive to be civil especially when others aren’t.

Encourage family members, friends and coworkers to tone it down.

Elect political leaders who behave in a civil way.

Ahah!, some readers will undoubtedly respond. Why don’t the Post-Dispatch opinion pages practice what they preach? Don’t mistake criticism and spirited debate with incivility.

Yes, we absolutely disagree with Trump - on a daily basis - and believe more elected officials, especially Republicans, should stand up to him. Disagreeing with others is not incivility. The use of name-calling, threats, bullying language, and expletives, among other forms of harsh expression, qualify as incivility. You won’t see it on our pages.

There’s nothing wrong with expressing opinions and passionately defending one’s point of view. But the nation’s survival depends on Americans finding better ways to work out their differences. Nobody wins every argument. Sometimes, the best solution is simply agreeing to disagree.


Kansas City Star, July 1

Floodwaters have tormented much of Missouri in recent months. But it’s the toxic streams of social media and small-town politics that have converged to put the city of Lexington in the national spotlight and leave their stain on the land.

After the city council voted 6-1 in February to fire a popular city administrator, the resulting backlash, propelled by social media, swept three of those council members out of office in April, defeated by write-in candidates sympathetic to the fired administrator.

But the raging waters would not recede, and last week, they carried off the formerly popular Mayor Fred Wiedner, who resigned, took a job out of state and cited the high-tech tar-and-feathering of social media as the main culprit.

“I did not sign up for this mess,” he wrote in an already legendary passage from his resignation letter. “Or, possibly I did and just didn’t realize how mean people could be. Either way, it is no longer worth the battle.”

Critics wanted the mayor’s head, and they got it. Not through the bush-league background checks they performed on him, which couldn’t dig up any more dirt than the same financial difficulties of a decade ago that washed over millions. No, what got them their wall trophy were the unsubstantiated insinuations about the mayor’s past shady or incompetent business dealings and, of course, the ominous but illusory shadows of what he might be up to today that folks don’t know about.

All this might not have happened were it not for the insidious power of social media to create constant churn and feed unwarranted animus. It’s an addictive chemical that induces otherwise normal people to wage remote blitzkrieg, most often against strangers, from the safety of their phones and computers.

Social media may be a net positive, but its negatives can be most vile.

“I think a lot of people don’t have anything else to do during the day,” said one Lexington official who requested anonymity for fear of further backlash.

This modern tragic allegory might have played out in Anytown, USA. It just happened to be staged for a national audience in Lexington, a charming burg of fewer than 5,000 sitting 50 miles east of Kansas City.

“We are better than this,” the official said. “This is a historic, lovely town.”

The former mayor, a transplant from Kansas who thought he’d settled into a pacific small-town life, had done a good job, the official said, adding that he was an upbeat sort who expected the hate to evaporate. In vain, it turns out.

“He just had enough,” lamented Bill Miller, a former eight-year councilman. “I don’t blame him for pulling up stakes.”

Gossip has always been with us. Today’s electronic gossip only more so.

“Social media is alive and well in this town, and it’s vicious,” Miller says. “I guess it’s that way across the country.”

In that way, the former mayor is racing the sun.


Jefferson City News-Tribune, June 27

The American Civil Liberties Union is trying to force the Missouri Department of Corrections to pay what could amount to around $100 million to cure prisoners who have hepatitis C.

The Associated Press reported the ACLU filed a motion in its class-action lawsuit, seeking an emergency court order to force Corrections and its medical provider, Corizon LLC, to begin testing and treating inmates with the viral infection.

Missouri has 4,590 inmates who are infected, the suit says.

Other than the ACLU, we haven’t heard much of an outcry to cure prisoners. Part of that might be because many of the people with the infection have it due to their own poor choices.

In most cases, hepatitis C is contracted through intravenous drug use, and isn’t spread much in prison. It also can be transmitted through tattooing or blood transfusions. It can be sexually transmitted as well, but that’s uncommon. If not treated it can attack the liver, leading to considerable pain and even death.

Corrections isn’t discussing the pending suit. We suspect a good part of the reason the department hasn’t authorized treatment to inmates with hepatitis C is because its flat out doesn’t have the money.

The cure requires treatment that takes up to 12 weeks and costs about $20,000. So, by our calculations, treating 4,590 inmates would cost taxpayers approximately $92 million, not including testing and the bureaucracy involved with testing and treating.

More states are facing such lawsuits because inmates’ advocates have been emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to a Feb. 5 U.S. News & World Report story, the high court ruled that officials cannot act with deliberate indifference to inmates’ serious health needs, and that denying them treatment can subject them to needless suffering and violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Burdening taxpayers with the huge health care bill doesn’t exactly seem fair, either, but it’s not going to do us much good to argue against the Supreme Court.

It’s not realistic for the Department of Corrections to simply find upward of $100 million in its budget to cure all of its affected inmates.

So, while the lawsuit works its way through the courts, we urge the Department of Corrections to triage the cases, treating and curing the worst cases first, as its budget allows. Meanwhile, the department shouldn’t prevent inmates or their families from seeking immediate treatment on their own.

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