More humility and civility, please

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Opinion

December 5, 2018 - 11:24 AM

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole and former President George H.W. Bush receive a standing ovation after Bush introduced Dole at a rally, Oct. 31, 1996. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

There was once a private school that graded students on the usual academic subjects, plus a fuzzy category related to decorum: “Claims no more than his fair share of time and attention.” Modesty and deference are still enviable traits, but imagine enforcing such behaviors in the age of social media. Where would Twitter and Facebook be without boasts and rants? Our current president would be rendered mute.

The student who once excelled at “claims no more …” was President George H.W. Bush, whose lifetime of service to the country was characterized by his decency and good manners. These were virtues he learned at the Greenwich Country Day School in the 1930s, further instilled by his parents, who admonished him against being conceited. “I don’t want to hear any more about the Great I Am,” his mother told him.

And so Bush was polite. A biographer, Jon Meacham, called him “the last gentleman.” As president, Bush strove to work with political friends and foes alike. He aspired to make America “a kinder, gentler nation.” He was an inveterate letter-writer, Meacham said, but these were nice letters, handwritten thank-yous and supportive missives, not mean tweets.

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