It is no secret that Congress faces a political climate full of frustration and hostility. Our failure to come together to solve our nation's problems continues to put our shared future in jeopardy.
We have come to think about compromise as capitulation. Some even see free speech as a tactic to suppress their outrage at government recklessness, rather than a reasonable approach to cordially debating our differences. One thing I've learned—and I have said this to Republicans and Democrats and everyone in between—is, bees cannot sting and make honey at the same time. They have to make a choice. Either they can sting other bees, or they can make honey with other bees. You cannot do both.
Unfortunately, Congress spends too much time fighting itself and too little time fighting for our constituents and the issues we believe in. We are a better, more compassionate, and caring nation than our current behavior portrays. We must be able to discuss our disagreements without allowing our discourse to deteriorate into this habit of hostility. While partisanship is a vital component of democracy, only healthy disagreement can propel us forward, to better ideas and better days. Embracing a civil exchange of ideas and respectful differences of opinion fosters real debate, and allows our best ideas to thrive.
That is why I have formed the Working Group for a Working Congress with my good friend and colleague, Congresswoman Kay Granger. This working group is comprised of Democrats and Republicans, and will work to demonstrate how we can be ardent in our advocacy without the cantankerous tone that is all too common. We will focus both on relationship building with lawmakers themselves and examine the committee process to create opportunities for bipartisan work on a small scale, and advocate for a return to regular order on a large one.
The founders designed our American Government anticipating partisanship. It is embedded in our country’s DNA, the Constitution. We thrive on our differences and on our diversity. But our differences only become virtuous when we discuss them with civility and statesmanship. When we allow hyper-partisanship to control the conversation, what once was a virtue becomes the downfall of a divided nation.
You can keep up with my weekly civility messages below, or by clicking Civility Message. You may also follow me on Twitter @repcleaver. Every Friday, I tweet a series of civility-themed messages. I encourage you to follow along, retweet, and share your own thoughts.
More on Civility
I recently wrote an Op-Ed that was published in USA Today about how we, in Congress, are to behave in the midst of political discourse. Just when I thought my heart-felt words were falling on deaf ears, I received a letter from a citizen. This gentleman took the time to type a letter and send it to my office. He wasn’t in my district and I have never met him but his sincere words resonated with me in a way that made me, well, hopeful. Here’s an excerpt from his letter.
The 115th Congress was sworn in this week. With each new Congress there is a chance of a new beginning, a chance to fight once again for the wellbeing of our citizens. As I took the oath to begin my seventh term as a member of the House, representing Missouri’s 5th District, I thought to myself, there is so much I want to achieve for the American people and I have been graciously given another chance, another opportunity to do so.
As 2016 comes to a close, I want to take this time to say thank you. Thank you to everyone reading this newsletter. Thank you for your time, your comments, and your support throughout this year.
We have had an eventful year, tackling several important issues. And I didn’t do it alone. It was a collective effort, from both parties, to bring significant and meaningful results to the 5th District and to the citizens of this country.
Believe it or not, during my high school years, I was a squeaky tenor in the Harry T. Burleigh a cappella choir, named in honor of the African American composer, arranger, and baritone soloist. The director of the well synchronized choir was Mrs. Gwendolyn Jackson, an accomplished contralto in her own right. Mrs. Jackson use to tell us during rehearsals, “Boys and girls, if you can’t hear the voice of the singers around you, it means that you are too loud.”
As we watch President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence begin their selection process of the next White House administration, one can only hope that the future cabinet is a representation of the interest and benefits of all Americans.
The American people have spoken. The country has elected Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Election Day is now over and the job before us is to keep America moving forward. The only way to do that is to work together with humility and respect for one another despite our differences. I’ve talked many times about civility. Now is the time to practice that very act of decency and respectful conduct.
During the seven years my family spent in public housing, my buddies and I had some of our greatest adventures in a wooded area we called “The Pasture.” We had an opportunity to play war and jungle games because there were unlimited hiding places and if we had a moment of bravery, we could cross the creek and never be found.
Perhaps our thrill was to sneak a potato, an egg or two, and a chunk of Spam from our parent’s kitchen and cook an extravagant omelet. The rich people never had something so good.