The measure of any nation, such as the United States, or any community, such as Jackson Hole, depends in good part on how we treat others. That is especially true when it comes to people who are not like us or with whom we disagree. I do not view this as just being politically correct but as crucial to being a successful town, county or nation. Civility correlates with progress on any human venture.
Recently I was quite troubled to learn that the field representatives for our U.S. congressional delegation face incivility, disrespect and even vulgarity when dealing with some constituents in Jackson Hole. Certainly most of us in public jobs have faced some of this, but it is wrong in any form. These public servants should be able to go to work and do their jobs without facing this kind of harassment. Their children should be able to go to school in our community without coming home worried about a parent’s safety because she works for an elected official someone disagrees with.
In the case of our congressional field representatives, that invective is also misguided. The field representatives’ job is providing constituent services on our behalf — to solve problems and help us find our way through the federal bureaucracy.
While they might forward local opinion to the member of Congress on behalf of constituents, these are not policy positions. Congressional field representatives do not set policy and do not work to implement it. They should be able to do their jobs with the comity, respect and support of our community.
Our three field representatives used to come together for listening sessions in Jackson Hole. I have attended some of them, held in our Town Council chambers. These sessions became so corrosive that they were canceled. I want to know what it would take to reinstate these listening sessions. Perhaps some local leaders could sit in to assure that the overall decency of our community is reflected in the meeting.
I find it ironic and hypocritical that people troubled by President Trump’s behavior would emulate it in their contacts with our congressional staff. If someone does not like the threats, lying, boasting and overall lack of character of our president, why mimic it?
Of course, civility does not mean we cannot have robust debate on the issues of the day. In a democracy that is our right and obligation. It does mean that we should disagree without being disagreeable.
I am happy to see that, overall, tolerance seems to be increasing nationwide and in Jackson Hole. Last summer I was proud of the town of Jackson when it found that state and federal law did not go far enough and passed an ordinance to protect the human rights of community members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The town focused particularly on discrimination in employment and housing.
Nationwide, the good news is that Americans have generally become more accepting. In 1937 the Gallup organization asked Americans what groups they would vote for. Back then, two-thirds would not vote for a woman, half would not vote for a Jew, and two-fifths would not vote for a Catholic. It was not until 1958 that black (62 percent would not) and atheist (82 percent would not) categories even appeared on the survey. In 1978 a gay and lesbian (74 percent would not) category was added.
Americans of all political persuasions are nearly unanimous today in saying they would vote for a woman or a Jewish, Hispanic, Catholic or black person. Still, prejudice remains. The 2019 Gallup poll found that people would refuse to vote for an atheist for president (40 percent), a Muslim (36 percent) or a gay individual (24 percent) no matter their character or qualifications.
Atheists have ranked at the bottom of the list since the question was first asked in 1958. In fact, defining religious nonbelievers is difficult. There appears to be a wide range of atheists, agnostics and those with no active affiliation who fall into this category. The percentage of Americans who acknowledge no religious affiliation has skyrocketed over the last 25 years. Today, Catholics, evangelicals and nonbelievers each represent about 23 percent of the public.
It has been said that tragedies on a grand scale always start with a loss of civility, tolerance and reason or when people do not speak out about injustice. Stereotyping others or being rude is not what makes us great as a nation or community.