It’s funny how some silver screen scenes seem to stick with you. I’m not sure if we have the correct movie title here, but if I was a betting man, I’d say it was 1993’s Tombstone with Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday.
Early on in the movie, the protagonists are charged with removing a belligerent patron from a town casino. The owners of that establishment realized this regular customer’s abysmal behavior was chasing every other patron out of the place.
Ah! But when confronted with some folks who meant business, this bully backed away faster than Rick Santorum at a gay pride parade. And the casino went on to prosper.
And I found myself thinking about that scene immediately upon hearing that Geneva District 304 School Board President Tim Moran was stepping down after a three-day hospitalization for chest pains. Thankfully, he came through those tests with flying colors.
Moran said he will complete his term, with Vice President Mark Grosso stepping in to fill that leadership role until the board votes on a permanent replacement.
And Moran isn’t the only Illinois elected official whose health seems to have been affected by the stress of the job. We’ve all heard about U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk’s recent stroke. Not even his doctors can say it was the job, but as a moderate Republican, Kirk has been the target of some of the most vicious personal attacks I’ve ever seen. He’s also in pretty good shape and, at 52, is far too young to suffer this kind of debilitating stroke.
Before we continue, I want be clear that, in this column, I’m not talking about any particular person, activist group or political faction. It’s not that I’m afraid to call 'em out when it’s called for, it’s just that it’s not germane to this conversation.
With that caveat covered, at this point, I’d typically trumpet the need to tone down the timbre of the national and local debate, but those past efforts have proven so futile, there’s no point in traveling that lonesome road one more time.
And it’s not just politics. I’ve had at least a half-dozen teachers tell me that is at an all-time high, we’ve already discussed , and we’re seeing too many newspaper articles on workplace incivility.
How did it get so personal? When did the fact that we disagree with someone automatically turn them into part of a conspiracy-ridden cabal intent on world, or state of Illinois, or Geneva domination?
So if we’re not going down that side street, then where are we headed? Though I’m sorely tempted, I’m certainly not going to ask you to do your best Earp brothers impersonation by trying to make any and all belligerent folks back down.
Actually, I think it’s time for journalists to take on that job. We need reporters and editors and columnists everywhere to start taking on the bullies—any bully, on all sides. I don’t care what your political flavor is, where the process is headed these days means no one in their right mind will be willing to run, so we’ll only end up with folks who aren’t in their right mind.
Before you get too complacent, I’m not asking you to take a step back, either. That only encourages the bullies. When you think about the 21,000-plus people in Geneva, the vast majority are quite reasonable.
The problem is, much like those absent Tombstone casino patrons who fled in the face of an unbridled thug, we’re choosing not to engage in the face of this blistering political solar wind. We stay silent. The dismal voter turnout in recent elections certainly bears that out.
And it’s exactly this failure to participate that gives the minuscule minority the capacity to steal the show. So in an effort to think global, but act local, what I’m asking Geneva citizens and public officials to do is take two steps forward! The first step to show you’re willing to engage with community members who might disagree with you, and the second to show you’re willing to move past any folks who use rhetoric and personal attacks to co-opt the process.
Because if either or both sides take a step back, it only pushes us all farther apart.
Yes! It’s important for elected officials to be held accountable for their actions, but the fact that they occasionally make a bad decision doesn’t make them evil, nor does it absolve us from choosing more wisely. School bond referendums don’t just pass themselves.
As I’ve also often said, no one put a gun to anyone’s head and said run for public office, but no elected official should ever wake up in the middle of the night with unexplained chest pains, either.
So here’s my thought. When the screamers of the world become a permanent fixture, our best option is talk past them, because when rational people engage, bullies lose their power.