Covington Catholic Incident Exposes Need for 21st Century “Reformation of Manners”

The controversy over the Kentucky catholic school boys trip to the March for Life over the weekend, and their interplay with a group of activists and a separate Native American activist resulted in widespread condemnation of these minor children, and calls for societal ostracism and even outright violence as their deserved punishment. Leftist, anti-Trump forces were gleeful in their righteous indignation and judgment, seeing their worldview condemning what was in their view the inherent toxicity of American white males, even those underaged, as confirmed. As more information, video coverage, and facts emerged as to the confrontation, this narrative proved false. Predictably, conservatives rallied to the boys’ defense, also gleeful in the exposition of “fake news”, false narratives, and divisive propaganda.

I believe both of these reactions to be short-sighted and misplaced. William Wilberforce, the 18th century British parliamentarian who almost single-handedly ended Britain’s participation in the slave trade based on grounds of moral outrage and Christian faith, had an additional second crusade — what he called the “reformation of manners”. He viewed British life, pre-Victorian era, as having lapsed into incivility, emotional personal attacks in public discourse, and a lack of regard for fellow citizens who shared a competitive world view. Wilberforce sought to regenerate civility in British life, where debaters and contestants were civil & polite, respectful of others, while holding fast to their convictions.

We need a 21st century reformation of manners in America. The hatred for one’s opponent, and deeply antagonistic and divisive rhetoric issued by both political extremes, is unAmerican.  Embarrassing.  A terrible example for the undemocratic countries of the world. Bold leaders of courage and honor from all points on the political spectrum must call firmly and openly for calm, reasoned debate, and goodwill among their fellow citizens after debates are over, whether policy quests and arguments are won or lost. Irrespective of the examples set for ordinary citizens by their political leaders. Our country needs a grassroots uprising demanding civility and respect for our fellow Americans, of all stripes, shapes and sizes. While unlikely to happen anytime soon, it’s a cause worthy of our country and its people.

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