Opinion

OPINION: Lessons On Civility From JFK 55 Years After Dallas

Curtis Hill Attorney General of Indiana

Today, 55 years have passed since the tragic day America lost a young president to the evil act of a radical assassin.

At his death, John F. Kennedy was only 45 years old. His time as president all too brief, he nonetheless provided a legacy that continues to inspire current generations.

On many subjects, President Kennedy spoke words that nowadays we often quote when expressing our nation’s highest aspirations and ideals. Civility was one of the many virtues JFK urged us to practice.

“So let us begin anew,” he said at his 1961 inaugural address, “remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness …  Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

At the time, Kennedy was discussing international relations, but he just as easily could have been referring to domestic relations among American citizens of differing ideologies, worldviews and political loyalties.

It’s a sad irony that Kennedy’s death itself served as a unifying event in America as virtually the whole country came together to mourn the loss of their fallen president. In much the same way, other largescale tragic events — such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terrorist attacks — have given rise to national unity.

We need to come together now — as one nation under God, indivisible — rather than waiting until the galvanizing effects of some new crisis or moment of great loss.

Today, unfortunately, echoes of incivility reverberate across America seemingly in louder tones than we have experienced for decades. Throughout all sectors of culture and society, we seem more prone to insult and denigrate one another than to engage in meaningful dialogue.

In the political realm, members of both parties are failing the civility test. The tone of our politics arises from the increased polarization vibrating from the populace. Candidates for office too often stoke this divisiveness when they believe it accrues to their strategic advantage.

America and indeed the world desperately need an increase in genuine conversation and a decrease in mindless shouting matches. Even when we disagree, we all can learn from one another if we develop a willingness to listen.

Indeed, the future peace and prosperity of our free republic are linked to our ability to practice civility. Constant, sustained rancor puts a steady strain on our democratic institutions.

“World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor,” JFK said. “It requires only that they live together with mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement.”

Beyond paying lip-service, let us all aspire to practice civility in both our personal interactions with others and in our civic duties in the public square.

As President Kennedy reminded us in a pre-Thanksgiving proclamation just days before his untimely death in Dallas: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Curtis Hill has served as Indiana’s Republican attorney general since 2017.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.