President Bush is a reminder of importance of civility in America

President Bush is a reminder of importance of civility in America
© Getty Images

Six days after the terrible attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush visited the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., and set the tone for how our country would respond to the acts of war brought on our country by a small sect of Islamic fundamentalists. After meeting with leaders of the mosque, President Bush spoke clearly and directly about the importance of recognizing the humanity and the rights of the “millions of Muslims” in the United States, commending them for their contribution to society and their commitment to our country. “In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

At a volatile time for the nation, President Bush used the power of the Oval Office to model the type of citizenship Americans should practice. His words and actions signaled to the country and the world that the United States would respond to the 9/11 attacks with measured resolve, not bigotry and hatred. Given his past, it’s no surprise that President Bush lent his voice to the call for civility this month, joining a growing list of U.S. senators including John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death MORE, Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeAnti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid Arpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument MORE, Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE, Angus KingAngus Stanley KingBipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year New intel chief inherits host of challenges Senators ask for committee vote on 'red flag' bills after shootings MORE and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' MORE. During his speech in New York City, President Bush former assessed the state of our politics following the bruising election of 2016, asserting that “bigotry seems emboldened” and that “we have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty.”

President Bush clarified an essential truth of our system of government, which is that we cannot insult our way to progress. Our democracy depends on our collective ability to work together, collaborate, and establish a path forward. He went further, calling on those in power in Washington to stand up for the values of respect and civility, leading by example for all Americans. “We know that when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy,” he said. President Bush didn’t call out or criticize anyone personally, even though his comments about “bullying and prejudice in our public life” have been construed as direct criticisms of President Trump.

Instead, President Bush’s indirect admonishment takes on greater strength. It is an essential reminder to elected officials at all levels of government. Whether it is city councilors in Akron, district judges in California, or members of the Texas state legislature, the leaders of our institutions have a duty to uphold the Constitution and the ideals it enshrines. Democracy is tested everyday by controversies, complications, and complex global challenges. It takes every steward of our government to maintain civility and strengthen American democracy for the future.

President Bush closed his speech with a call to action, singling out the need for shaping the “views and values of the young.” He advocated for a “renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools.” As we navigate this difficult era of division and hyper-partisanship, we need every leader to step forward to make a commitment to civility. President Bush deserves commendation for speaking out in era of partisan hostility to advance the cause of respectful discourse that has the power to shape so much of our country.

Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, Ph.D., is executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona.