The Easter Recess and what Congress should do upon their return

Easter and Passover are this month. Passover, a time when Jews commemorate the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, as told in the Book of Exodus and Easter, the day Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Because of the two holy days, Congress takes its annual recess. Traditionally, these days also start the season of spring. Spring means the coming of life of plants and trees that have lied dormant for winter. Easter, Passover and spring are symbolic of remembrance, new life and rebirth.

This month also ends the first 100 days of President Trump’s administration and the new 115th Congress. While there are some successes, the administration can articulate especially with the use of President Trump’s executive orders, Congress, however cannot. The sad reality - our political system is broken: uber partisanship, massive debts with trillion-dollar deficits, massive citizen dissatisfaction, rampant public corruption and vast militaristic conflicts.

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So broken, gone are the days of members disagreeing vehemently on the floor of Congress, while still getting to know each other and their families aside from their political differences. Furthermore, the nation’s core political problem is a loss of self-governance, and the restoration of self-governance cannot come from the election of a single leader who transforms America, by making it “great again,” but it will only come from changing the way we think about political conflicts. Self-governance is an ethical code that outlines acceptable behavior within a system, for our society and government. This is civility.

Civility entails the social dignity within systems, however, the power of market-inspired moralities and the waning interest in ethics in civic life forecast an ominous future for American democracy. For example, my generation of millennials have taken a keen interest in Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), deeming her “Auntie Maxine” not necessarily for her longstanding championing of Alzheimer or minority HIV/AIDS legislation or work on the House Financial Service Committee, but for her in-your-face, no nonsense attitude she has towards certain policies in contrast to her beliefs and constituents. The lack of civility, not from her end, but from others and the circumstances that have led to her attitude is troubling.

Civility is more than just political politeness, although it is a significant first step, but it is primarily, according to the Institute for Civility in Government, disagreeing without being disrespectful, seeking the common good as a starting point on areas of differences and finding that common ground or “overlapping consensus” when an impasse occurs. Moreover, civility is the fuel for a strong democratic culture that ensures opportunity and stability for real leadership and legislation that benefits most Americans.  Civility, therefore, protects the democratic values of liberty, equality, and freedom without which democracy is impossible. Civility is hard work because it involves a community of discourse, that involves listening to each other, and it is at this intersection that Congress can begin inserting new life in their relationships with each other by disagreeing without being disagreeable. And in doing so, Congress can get back to some level of normalcy.

Our country yearns for civility and community, which has substantial implications for addressing diversity and culture in a globalized world. Since its founding, the nation has struggled with the antagonistic twins of civility and crudeness. Many members of Congress are elected from places on the margins with distinctive perspectives that dare see the kaleidoscopic visions of America’s future in a world where differences and variations of  history collide, but whatever one’s political ideology or beliefs – civility should always remain a key part of the discourse among public officials. For without it, deep divisions in our country will widen.

These holy days extend the promise of hope even during times of opposition and divisiveness. As our nations stands in such moments, it’s time for Congress to usher in a freshness that our republic so desperately needs. Congress must work to fix the problem and this holy season is an ideal time to start.  

Reverend Professor Quardricos Bernard Driskell is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, an adjunct professor of religion and politics at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, and associate pastor of the historic Beulah Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter @q_driskell4       


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.