EDITORIAL: Time to rein in the meanness spreading across the country

The rawness of the attacks in Portland should jolt us here in Malheur County, a time zone and hundreds of miles away.

Two men were slashed to death and a third hospitalized Friday for trying to stop public abuse of two teen girls. The accused attacker is reported to be a white supremacist with virulent views.

This is shocking in so many ways. A man considered it okay to espouse his hate not only in public, but on public transit. Two young girls minding their own business now must sleep every night with the nightmare of that day. A heroic act by men just riding a commuter train to work or home turned into funerals and a hospital watch.

Every day, we are treated to the latest episode of a civility lost. A Congressional candidate thinks assault is the best response to a question. A fan of a presidential candidate defends himself against a lawsuit by claiming his candidate told him to rough up a protester. A diplomat in Washington watches from his limousine as security guards clobber protesters, including face kicking a man when he’s down.

What’s becoming of us as a people? The talking heads have chattered about that question for months now. Sociologists, psychologists and columnists all bemoan how what was abnormal behavior is now excused sometimes as “it’s the times.”

No, it’s not.

Bullying conduct and intimidation should not, can not, be accepted behavior – not in Portland, not in the nation’s capital, not in Malheur County. We can’t allow ourselves to slowly, slowly retreat from civility. We can’t lose what has made us strong, not now, not ever. Civility doesn’t mean going soft, giving up on hard views, or playing political patty-cake.

What it means, though, is to holding dear to fairness and respect, listening to those we disagree with, keeping hands in pockets and off throats, benching the most vile of speech.

Here in the West, the tradition of toughness is part of our heritage. You had to be tough to survive – on the Oregon Trail, on the range, in the path of destructive storms. You held your ground, defended what was yours, and spoke plainly. But toughness doesn’t underwrite meanness, and too many people these days confuse the two.

How do we turn this around? Maybe we call it the Owyhee Way – we show the rest of the state and the rest of the country that we can be vigorous in opinion, forceful in debate and yet still hold each other with regard and respect. We can show you can be strong without being hateful, you can be persuasive without being punitive. Our incredibly diverse county in some ways already is an example of how different peoples from different cultures can build a society in common.

Each of us has a duty to that common society, and we especially have a duty to be intolerant of any act, any conduct, that shears our bonds. Let’s double down on the courage of character on which this territory was built. – LZ