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The governor is feeling tested these days. He is getting pushback from Vermonters who feel he and his administration are not doing enough to further mitigate the positive cases of COVID that are plaguing some of the state’s schools and municipalities. Then there are those who feel that pushing towns to decide for themselves how they want to handle a mask mandate has led to in-fighting at the community level. They don’t want any overreaching by government; not even a suggestion of being told what to do.

The Democratic majority in the House and Senate is posturing for a no-holds-barred legislative session, scheduled to start in a matter of weeks.

Gov. Phil Scott is pushing back on the media for its coverage of mask mandates and COVID numbers. And now there are reports his own staff is throwing its weight around and suggesting they know more about what is best for Vermont than the experts who are studying the pandemic and its implications.

With messaging a bit off message these days, the pushback and impetuousness seem to signal displeasure with lack of results and a slip in both popularity and adoration that elevated this governor early in the pandemic.

So it’s a little ironic to us that Gov. Scott on Thursday addressed President Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy on civility and bipartisanship.

According to the release sent along with his remarks, the Republican governor “emphasized that, in a well-functioning democracy, there needs to be healthy debates, give and take, and that no one person or one party has all the answers.”


Healthy debates.

No one has all the answers.

The virtual summit, “has brought together hundreds of world leaders, heads of state and other advocates for democracy and human rights, comes at a critical time for democracies around the world, as authoritarianism is on the rise across the globe,” the release notes.

So here is some additional perspective and wisdom from Scott to the summit attendees.

“Healthy democracies require healthy relationships amongst citizens and their governments. … Keeping these relationships healthy requires a constant commitment to listening, learning, and always working to do better. It needs an authentic effort to reach consensus, compromise when necessary and accept that we will not — and in fact should not — win every debate. And it takes humility to realize that no single party or person has all the best ideas.”

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He went on: “Citizens and those elected to serve must also understand the point of view, the goals and the fears of those with whom we disagree. … The health of democratic nations themselves depends on listening to and considering other perspectives.”

Scott, consistently throughout his terms as governor, has had to make various pleas for civility, sometimes at the height of social and political unrest in Montpelier and across the nation, and even during key addresses to assembled lawmakers and all Vermonters.

On Thursday, he told world leaders, “What we have experienced in the U.S. from both major parties is a steady erosion of the basic civility and respect that is so essential to the health of our democratic republic. … It is critical for our nation to humbly reflect on these events and the many years leading up to them, and learn from it to make our nation, and all democracies, more durable. Because democracy is only as strong as our commitment to it, and we cannot let our guard down.”

He issued the compulsory cautionary tale.

“When we stop listening and learning from each other; when we cannot debate issues and find common ground and a path forward; when we refuse to consider another person’s point of view or insist one party or politician is always right or always wrong, we are eroding core democratic values,” he said.

“Now to be clear, a vigorous and healthy debate is a good thing. It ensures the tough questions are asked, ideas are tested and different perspectives are heard. … Unfortunately, we’ve reached a tipping point where political debates and activism have turned intensely personal — sometimes downright hateful — at a time when our challenges are in desperate need of more dialogue and understanding.”

He concluded, “The opportunity for real discussion and compromise slips away. Frustration grows, the divide deepens, the relationship between citizens is poisoned by hyper-partisanship and the destructive cycle of polarization repeats. Worse yet, this divisiveness fuels hate and violence.”

He is not wrong.

Scott just has some work to do on the Fifth Floor, within his party, at the State House and with Vermonters. “In a democracy, there is always hope,” the governor said.

We hope so.

Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, Dec. 9