News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.

Polarization yields a celebration of civil society’s behavioral baseline

Tuesday is the first-ever National Decency Day. Congress, where political polarization means basic decency sometimes seems in very short supply, plans to formally take notice. Local governments in half the states have already done so.

The burst of activity is the handiwork of a New York graphic designer, Lisa Cholnoky. She began a campaign to elevate "the basic standard of civility that every American deserves" two years ago, with the distribution of several thousand strikingly simple, old-fashioned lapel buttons proclaiming a disarming conversation starter: "decency." Last fall she launched an ad hoc civic engagement bid to persuade high schools and colleges to petition city councils or school boards to proclaim May 14 as a Day of Decency – which has so far happened in 28 communities in 25 states.

She then registered with the National Day Calendar, which permits nonprofit groups and businesses to lay perpetual claim to an honorific sliver of what's become an overstuffed annual almanac. (Tuesday is also Buttermilk Biscuit Day and Underground America Day.)

And Cholnoky has arranged for a bipartisan series of endorsements on the floor of the House for what she terms "a moment in the midst of the polarized atmosphere in which we find ourselves for all people to reclaim the tradition, practices and skills for civil discussion of our differences of opinion."

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

"During my time on the campaign trail last year I was inspired by the number of doors I knocked and how many residents asked for one thing: decency," freshman Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean of suburban Philadelphia said.

"As Americans, we cherish our freedom to dissent, but we must always bear in mind that these debates should be productive and substantive," said GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island, Cholnoky's congressman.

© Issue One. All rights reserved.