Michelle Quist: Utah isn’t innocent when it comes to civility in politics

(Screengrab from PSA) Utah's major party candidates for governor — Republican Spencer Cox and Democrat Chris Peterson — released three public service announcements on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 to encourage the public to accept the results, regardless of the outcome, in the presidential race.

Utah has made national news again, but this time the news is good. Gubernatorial candidates Spencer Cox, a Republican, and Chris Peterson, a Democrat, teamed up in a commercial to remind Utahns — and the nation — to be civil during this highly contentious political season.

With protests turning to violence, the call for civility is appropriate.

Specifically, the two candidates promised to “fully support the results of the presidential election.”

In other words, the Trumpian era has devolved into politicians promising to accept the results of an election — as if there were any other possibility. We’ve reached a new low when the most pressing question of our presidential candidate is, “If you lose, will you accept the results?”

(And it’s not that great on the other side either, where the most pressing — also unanswered — question is, “Will you increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court?”)

Twitter is awash with high-profile national figures praising the Utah candidates' political message, and most every national news show — CNN, CBSNews, BBC News — has carried the story. (I didn’t see it on Fox News. Perhaps that network doesn’t agree with a call to civility.)

It’s a good look for Utah, but civility should be the minimum.

Utah isn’t innocent when it comes to civility transgressions.

The level of personal nastiness this month is ugly — from all sides. The Utah Democratic Party sent mailers alleging some legislators “did nothing to stop” the tax bill that passed before it was later repealed. Except that those legislators the Democrats targeted actually voted against the tax bill.

For its part, the Republican Party has sent out mailers that wrongly state that a “study was done” by a political science professor about a certain legislator’s voting record. And mailers against a female legislator include a picture that has been heavily edited to make the candidate’s face look like a balloon.

Individuals have also contributed to the filth we now recognize as the political season. Greg Hughes' campaign for governor used a telephone survey company to inform voters that Spencer Cox had received donations from a radical left group that supported “abortions on demand” and other hot-button dog whistles.

Even local level politics are not free from fault. The Salt Lake City School Board is embroiled in its own turmoil caused by certain board members' reprehensible behavior toward one another and constituents, including foul language, dismissive disdain and potential illegal actions. As the debate heated up about whether students would attend school in person or online, board members sent profane texts and messages making fun of one another and local parents.

Republican candidate Burgess Owens is running against Democratic incumbent Ben McAdams in the 4th Congressional District. But inexplicably he keeps calling out Sen. Mitt Romney. This time he claimed Romney is “not representative of Utah’s values.” Most Utahns would disagree.

The trash talk isn’t even relevant for his contest; it brings nothing to his candidacy other than mean-spirited division. And, ironically, it’s not the Utah way.

In fact, Romney spoke about the Utah way a few weeks ago in a public statement that noted the political discourse has “moved away from spirited debate to a vile, vituperative, hate-filled morass that is unbecoming of any free nation — let alone the birthplace of modern democracy.” He then called for everyone — “parents, bosses, reporters, columnists, professors, union chiefs, everyone” — to “lower the heat.”

Let’s lower the heat of political bludgeoning in Utah.

As the election nears, it’s not likely that we’ll lower the heat unless we commit individually to lower it ourselves. That really is the only way.

Stop engaging on Facebook. Ignore the taunt that you support abortion if you’re voting for Joe Biden. Ignore the jab that you don’t care about morals if you’re voting for Donald Trump.

Does your vote really depend on convincing everyone else that you’re right? No. It doesn’t. Just vote and move on. You aren’t going to convince anyone.

I’ve written about civility before, multiple times. As Romney notes, civility doesn’t have to tamper legitimate debate and disagreement. But no good will come from debate and disagreement at this late stage.

Pick up dinner for your neighbors and leave it on their door. Bake cookies with your kids. Take a drive into the mountains. Read a book. Take a nap.

And vote. That’s really all you can do.

Michelle Quist

Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.

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