This editorial ran in the Aug. 24, 2017, edition of The (Springfield) State Journal-Register.
It is disturbing, but all too easy in today's political climate, to picture the reality state Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez recently found herself in.
A spectator yelled "We hate you" at Jimenez, her husband, 4-year-old twins and mother as they walked in the Illinois State Fair parade. One of her sons asked his grandmother if the man hated him; she downplayed the incident, and the boy theorized perhaps the man was upset because he didn't get any candy.
That may pacify the child now, but as he hears more insults hurled at his mother, how do his parents explain that a growing number of Americans have enthusiastically embraced the misplaced notion that incivility toward an elected official is a duty?
Jimenez, R-Leland Grove, recently told the SJ-R that there have been many examples where people were "inappropriate in their approach to me and my family." Politics right now, she said, is "much more hostile than it's been for a long time."
Another example: House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, was dining recently at Alexander's Steakhouse in Springfield when a man approached him. As detailed on the Capitol Fax blog, the man bent over the speaker's table and pointed his finger at Madigan as he reportedly "chewed" out the state representative.
Even a polarizing figure like Madigan deserves to have a meal without someone getting in his face.
Politicians are not immune from critique. We should demand they be transparent and hold them accountable when they are not. Constituents have the right to discuss with their elected officials their concerns.
But it can be done with respect and in the proper venue. What does yelling obscenities or hateful statements accomplish? Nothing fruitful, although maybe the person verbally spewing garbage has a few moments of self-congratulatory happiness, and can bask in the praise from friends who applaud such actions in person or over social media. Case in point: Photos of the man in the Madigan confrontation were posted on Facebook, and the majority of the comments cheered him on.
Our country cannot remain in a place where it's OK to demonize those we disagree with politically. It was a prominent trait of the 2016 presidential election cycle that has unfortunately continued; just look at the almost daily examples at the local, state or national level of incivility over a multitude of issues.
And incivility can escalate into violence, such as when a Bernie Sanders supporter shot and wounded several people at a Congressional Republicans baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, before being killed by Capitol Police. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, was there but escaped injury.
Davis, who has described the shooting as his "breaking point," has advocated since then to tone down the heated political rhetoric. We need more prominent elected officials of all political stripes to follow his lead. Too often party leaders on both sides fan the flames, as they let their competitiveness guide them if it means they could score a political win — even if it comes at the expense of compromise that would benefit the people they represent.
We fear this need to belittle those now perceived not just as opponents, but enemies, will lead good people — those who truly could make a difference — to not seek public office. If we had to bet, the man who yelled at Jimenez during the parade was angry about her votes that ended the budget impasse. He has a right to be upset with her, but there must be respect that she clearly voted her conscience.
Jimenez is one of a dozen state lawmakers who have indicated they will not seek office again in 2018. Another two resigned early from their terms. Not all are departing due to the political tone, but a few have said it has contributed to their decision.
Politics has never been perfect, and perhaps we are waxing nostalgic, but it seems there once was a desire to come together in bipartisan compromise on the majority of issues to benefit the most citizens. Is that too much to ask for?