The first demonstrates a level of irritation for what was seen as a hypocritical gesture – someone calling for civility when they themselves were seen as part of the problem. The second is a more reflective piece that noted the improvement of the political tone over the course of ten years on the Vanguard.
The first piece was concerned that civility was used to paper over policy differences – a concern that I think very much remains valid today. The second noted that there was a turning point in the affairs of Davis – an incident that occurred in January 2010 between then-Councilmember Sue Greenwald and Mayor Ruth Asmundson.
When I announced last week the end of anonymity on the Vanguard, a large reaction from the group of people not posting anonymously was that, in this year, during these times, this move was needed. The overriding belief was that, in a small town, reputation was a form of accountability.
I am not sure I fully buy into that notion. In 2016 there have been some notable and heated public exchanges over the issues of the day. While the conduct of the members of public institutions in Davis has for the most part remained above the board, that has not always extended beyond the dais.
The political climate in this country is getting worse. Back during the Reagan administration in the early 1980s, President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill were often in a strong public adversarial position on the major policy issues of the day. And yet, famously, the two men would often socialize together.
But, by the 1990s, just a decade later, Democrats and Republicans rarely socialized. The divide has only grown more polarized – from observations starting with President Clinton, each succeeding administration has seen only more divide, more vitriol, and less cooperation.
In a way, I guess we should not be surprised to see a president elected who simply threw off all pretenses of civility. I get that a portion of the country is very angry at the state of the nation and the direction of politics.
I never thought I would see the day where the American people elected someone to the office of the presidency who was, quite simply, publicly mean. This was a man who belittled his opponents, made personal swipes about his adversaries, mocked people with disabilities, and worse.
Throughout the election, still foolishly convinced he would not win, I feared the future of political discourse after all the rules were essentially thrown out. Now that he has improbably won, I don’t know that this nation can really continue without a real reckoning.
The reality is that, in a lot of ways, the President-elect’s conduct reflects the demeanor of some of those that elected him. Not all. Maybe not even most. But I see the comments on Facebook by some of my friends who voted for him and I’m often appalled. It is not clear that Humpty-Dumpty can be put back together again.
The political scene here in Davis is hardly more functional. One a regular basis I hear from members of the council who complain about the angry and accusatory dialogue here in town. A common refrain I hear is “who is stupid enough to run for office in this town?”
And, while these words may have come from one person, the theme is something I hear from multiple people.
The council has to deal with heated emotions, lawsuits, threats, and overall bullying from members of the public.
Back in August, I described that the first years of the Vanguard, from 2006 to 2010, saw a number of angry exchanges on the council (with Lamar Heystek staying above the fray as a rule). That eventually culminated in the public exchange between then-Mayor Ruth Asmundson and Councilmember Sue Greenwald (as captured on the infamous YouTube video by the Vanguard).
The exchange left Ms. Asmundson badly shaken. While many have seen the YouTube video, few will remember what happened behind the scenes in the lobby when the cameras were off. I captured that moment in this article, where I was holding my one-month-old daughter in her baby carrier in one hand while I physically had to separate then-City Manager Bill Emlen with my other hand from attacking Sue Greenwald.
The lack of civility that night was in a way far worse than portrayed in the press – because, at that time, I was the only one who saw just how bad it was.
In August I argued that it marked a turning point for our community – but I wonder if it did so in a real way.
Have we simply papered over the ugliness in a way where things will eventually rush back to the surface? I have seen glimpses of that veneer breaking down this year, both in public at council meetings where members of the public angrily accuse the council of ugliness, and at a number of commission meetings – both ones I have been part of as well as ones I have only heard about secondhand.
I have often lamented that Davis has become ungovernable. We have planning by exception but, even more so, we have planning by litigation.
At some point, I have argued that Davis will have difficulty maintaining its level of services and infrastructure. And I argued that a good part of it is due to the culture of incivility where threats, accusations, innuendo and then lawsuits have become part of the daily norm.
2010 seems far in the rear, but it is not as far off as you think.
In the end, I tend to agree that those who are not part of the solution CAN BE part of the problem, and my hope is that, in 2017, the Vanguard through its new policies can help to forge a new day – but I’m pessimistic that this will be enough.
—David M. Greenwald reporting