Our View | Town Hall Meetings and the Lost Art of Civility

By The Signal Editorial Board

We need to restore civility. But for either side of the political debate to claim the moral high ground is disingenuous, to say the least. It doesn’t much matter who threw the “first punch,” any more than the first punch matters in an all-out bar fight.

In the case of northern Los Angeles County, the most recent phase of the bar fight that has become local politics came a week ago, during a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce. 

Hill was repeatedly interrupted, baited and generally antagonized by a few disrespectful audience members, some of whom are not even residents of Hill’s 25th congressional district.

We do not always agree with Rep. Hill, but she deserves much more respect than that. This was an event in which she was seeking to make herself available to constituents to address their questions about issues and legislation, and she should be able to do so without having to deal with unruly audience members.

Hill’s supporters decried the behavior of those who disrupted the town hall, and a few days later Hill posted a video on social media in which she addressed some of the questions that didn’t get answered in person — and, she noted that many of the people who disrupted the meeting were not even constituents of the 25th district.

When the congresswoman and her supporters object to the way she was treated by certain disruptive audience members last week, they have a valid point. Those agitators — some of whom were there, clearly, for the sole purpose of agitating — were out of line.

But they weren’t any more out of line than some of the protesters who showed up at town halls hosted by former Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, while he was in office. Some of those protesters even attempted to force their way into Knight’s district offices, sans appointment.

Funny thing. All of the voices decrying the uncivil behavior at Hill’s town hall were either eerily silent or cheering on the anti-Knight protesters back when the shoe was on the other foot. 

It wasn’t that long ago — about a year — when Knight had to be escorted to his car by sheriff’s deputies due to concerns about the angry mob that showed up to one of his town hall meetings.

There weren’t many complaints from Democrats then. And, in fairness, we’ve only heard a few complaints from Republicans this past week after Hill’s town hall was disrespectfully disrupted.

It’s purely partisan and neither side seems able to acknowledge its own role in the bar fight. Even among those who are civil in their own behavior, there’s a prevailing unwillingness to criticize those who misbehave if the target is from the opposite party.

It makes one wonder: Will all those who have been cheering the Mueller investigation be crying foul when the next Democratic president gets investigated on a trumped-up allegation? 

Because, make no mistake, it’ll happen. The precedent has been set, and the roles will reverse: Those who have objected to the probe into allegations that Trump and his campaign colluded with Russian interests to sway the 2016 presidential election will be lying in wait for the next Democrat to occupy the White House, and those who have been relentlessly pursuing Trump despite the lack of evidence of collusion will go on the defensive, accusing the other side of staging a witch hunt.

So is this what’s become of U.S. politics in general, and north L.A. County politics specifically? 

Can our congressional representatives no longer hold a reasoned discussion with constituents, even though some may disagree with their stances on the issues? 

Sadly, that appears to be the case. Our elected officials, from past representatives like Knight to present ones like Hill, deserve the opportunity to engage with their constituents in a civilized manner, free of staged stunts, intentional antagonism and general rudeness.

We all deserve that. But until both sides are willing to self-police their own “crazies” and demand good behavior from those of all political stripes, there’s not much hope for progress. 

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