Out of curiosity, my friend Jorge looked up the salaries of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. According to official sources, members of Congress and Senators receive $174,000 per year. The Majority and Minority Leaders of both chambers are paid $193,400 each year. The Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, gets $223,500 per year, while the President pro tempore of the Senate finds $193,400 in his yearly take.
The Vice President is paid $233,000 and President Trump gets $400,000 per year plus $50,000 expense allowance as official pay. Of course his weekly golf vacations of $3,000,000 each must be figured in, too.
Jorge says it might be argued that we are not getting our money’s worth out of these people. Especially when we take their almost complete absence of civility into account.
I quipped that perhaps we should have a pay scale based upon the dictionary definition of civility. An elected public servant would receive the equivalent of minimum wage if he or she just showed up. If that person behaved in an uncivil manner, he or she would have to forfeit a certain amount of pay. If a public servant spoke and acted with the utmost civility, he or she could receive their full salary.
Jorge added, “None of them would be able to collect any money, at any time from lobbyists and if they are given an influential job after leaving government, they would be liable to penalties for taking a “revolving door” position in private industry.
We both agree that such a plan has no chance of ever happening because it would take a Constitutional Amendment to accomplish it. Those who are affected by the plan would have to introduce and vote on it.
Millions of Americans feel the same sense of frustration and ennui about the lack of civility in our great nation. Count Jorge and me in that group.
What is civility as it relates to public discourse by citizens and officials in a nation? My copy of Harper’s Etymology Dictionary states, “‘status of a citizen,’ from Old French civilite (14c.), from Latin civitatem (nominative civitas) “the art of governing; courteousness,” from cvilis ‘relating to a citizen, relating to public life, befitting a citizen; popular, affable, courteous/. Later especially ‘good citizenship’ (1530s). Also ‘state of being civilized’ (1540s); ‘behavior proper to civilized persons’ (1560s).”
Jorge says that the backbiting, self-centered, obnoxious behavior by so many of our elected leaders qualifies as the opposite of civility. I completely agree with my friend. I’ve become much more concerned about the tone of politics during the past few years. There has been a radical decline in bipartisanship and civility in the halls of Congress.There is also an almost militant hostility between those who cling to differing opinions and beliefs in the general population of citizens.
It’s obvious that the decline of civility and the ascendency of attack politics in government and the general population are discredits to the United States and stains on the nation as a whole. Strict belief in economic/political theory and lockstep obedience of left/right party lines are at fault. Together, these have helped cause alienation of the citizens from government which seriously jeopardizes the foundations of our democratic republic.
Jorge says that he often turns on the teevee or finds a discussion on the Web that he sees well dressed, lavishly paid grown adults screaming at each other like spoiled two-year-old toddlers. This sort of uncivility alienates millions of us.
I used to have a framed quote by P.T. Barnum on my desk at work. It said, “Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business. Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements, will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly. The truth is, the more kind and liberal a man is, the more generous will be the patronage bestowed upon him.”
If more of our elected officials, media pundits, and citizens could adopt the sentiment underlying the Barnum quote, all of us would greatly benefit.
If only we could remember to behave according to the definition of civility listed in my old etymology dictionary, we could all work together to help solve the immense problems facing the nation and the world. Civility is the act of being a good citizen who practices orderly, polite behavior towards each other. Civility defines civilization.