Make America Grape Again
by David C. Anderson
2016-2017 OCBA President
As I write this, I haven't a clue who our president will be following the November 8 election. But I do know that as you read this, there will be people who are unhappy with the result, and others who are cautiously optimistic about the future. I watched the first presidential debate like any sane person, with a glass of wine in my hand. As I sipped red zin from Sonoma County, I realized that I was watching the debate for sport – not to get more information about the candidates and their respective policies. It was entertainment. I was watching to see what crazy thing one of them would say next. I was waiting to gawk at a metaphorical car wreck. And I realized that's sad. As a political science geek and, more importantly, a member of the bar, that's not what I should be doing. I should be better than that. So with another sip of wine, I decided that it was time to "make America grape again," by penning a column on genuine civility.
The divisiveness and lack of civility that we've seen grow in this country even before the 2016 presidential campaigns began should be of concern to all of us. Such lack of civility was only made worse by the presidential candidates. Donald Trump regularly called his rivals "stupid, incompetent and losers." Hillary Clinton famously referred to Trump supporters as "a basket of deplorables." Stating it mildly, these are not good role models.
This is not a new problem. It's true that there may be more ways in which to be rude given our growing interconnectedness. For example, with the rise of social media and the web, we've experienced an increase in cyberbullying across all age groups. But about 200 years ago, President John Adams wrote about his "fear that in every assembly, members will obtain influence by noise, not sense. By meanness, not greatness. By contracted hearts, not large souls."1
Yet, I remain encouraged. I am encouraged by the great respect that most good lawyers show each other and all those in our profession. In fact, real civility is just that: respect. Civility is not political correctness or mere politeness. "Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process."2 A perfect example of such genuine civility can be found in President George H.W. Bush's January 20, 1993, letter to President Bill Clinton welcoming him to the White House.
President Bush remained true to himself and at the same time showed respect for President Clinton by welcoming him to the office, encouraging him to stay the course, and wishing him all the best for himself and our country. That is genuine civility.
So, now that we've survived the 2016 presidential campaigns, it's important that we remind ourselves of the following core civility principles that are derived from the Civility Principles you will see on display in many Oakland County Circuit Court courtrooms:3
- Treat everyone with respect, courtesy and patience.
- Foster and maintain a collegial and professional relationship with opposing counsel.
- Treating each other with courtesy, respect, and professionalism is not inconsistent with zealous representation of clients or the orderly administration of justice.
- Always conduct yourself in a manner that will preserve and enhance the professional image of the profession and the legal system.
Participation in the OCBA is one of the best ways in which to develop and strengthen your aptitude for genuine civility. If you're already a member, join a committee. If you're already on a committee, ramp up your participation. Encourage others to become active members of the bar association. And always attend social networking events, whether hosted by your own committee or another. Such activity fosters professionalism and mutual respect among lawyers. It pays real dividends. And by all means, come to the Holiday Gala on December 1 at the Townsend Hotel. We can all enjoy some revelry, partake in a little wine and, together, make America grape again! On behalf of the OCBA, I wish you peace and joy this holiday season.
1 “Civility in Government,” Huffington Post (March 22, 2016).
2 Tomas Spath and Cassandra Danke, founders, Institute for Civility in Government.
3 Civility Principles, developed by Judges Potts and Alexander in collaboration with the OCBA (2008) (These are just four of the 14 principles listed in Civility Principles. The four that I've listed are, in my opinion, at the core of all of them.)