When he becomes chairman of the National Governors Association this week, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox intends to pursue an agenda of persuading Americans to become more civil in their disagreements, the details of which he will announce Friday.

That perhaps sounds soft. It is not, given the state of public discourse in America. Put another way — the way he puts it — we have to stop hating each other so we can get things done.

It’s an audacious goal for a one-year term that includes the run-up to another contentious presidential election. Americans, it appears, are as bitterly divided, suspicious and partisan as they ever have been, egged on by the vitriol and nonsense of social media.

But the governor offers an insight that makes a lot of sense.

Cox told the Deseret News that he and his staff thought about focusing on health care, immigration or the need for the United States to extract the rare-earth minerals so important in modern electronics, which China has begun to monopolize. Soon, however, one thing became apparent.

“We can’t solve health care and we can’t solve critical minerals and energy (problems),” he said. “We can’t do anything, because we hate each other and we talk past each other and we have members of Congress who are performing instead of working.”

That problem doesn’t just exist in the halls of power. It’s bigger than public policy, and yet it’s as small as your kitchen table.

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“What we post on Facebook and Twitter every day is actually impacting the future of the human race and our ability to stand up to Putin and China,” he said. 

This is an awful big issue for any governor to try to impact, especially at a time when Washington politics seems to dwarf state issues in the court of public opinion. But we agree with Cox’s reasoning, and we applaud his decision to make this a public campaign. Governors can help stem the tide of hatred and division by modeling it for the citizenry. And as Cox reasons, you can’t attack any problem if you can’t learn how to manage differences.

Americans once lauded the words of French philosopher Voltaire, who is alleged to have said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This nation’s DNA is rooted in the notion of mutual respect and human dignity. People must be reminded of that.

Cox spoke Saturday at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, near the spot where Abraham Lincoln delivered what may be the most famous and important speech of all time. Cox addressed a convention of Braver Angels, a group that aims to depolarize the United States. Later he appeared as a guest on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Referencing his upcoming initiative with the National Governors Association that will, among other things, “feature governors modeling healthy conflict,” Cox told the convention he thinks the nation’s founders would not be proud of how this generation is treating the sacrifices needed to preserve the republic. “The founders understood that patriotism wasn’t just pomp and circumstance,” he said.

The venue could not have been more appropriate. 

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One hundred sixty years ago this November, Lincoln honored those who had died in the battle of Gettysburg. More importantly, he reminded Americans of the duty of those still living, “... that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

That duty belongs to each generation, and Utah can play an important role.

Cox believes that, as with landmark legislation concerning the intersection of LGTBQ+ rights and religious liberty, or with agreements on immigration reforms, Utah can show the way forward.

“We think Utah is different and unique, and I think we need to be intentional about Utah being different and unique,” Cox told the Deseret News.

Certainly, Utah has seen its share of uncivil behavior, such as when protesters amassed near Cox’s house during the pandemic to protest policies on mask wearing. But we note that the governor, who then was governor-elect, met their protests with cookies that he distributed freely.

We believe Utah has more cookie distributors than it has hateful zealots.

We believe the rest of the nation does, as well, but people need to be reminded of it. 

But we especially agree with the notion that Americans need to be finished with petty disputes, especially at a time when the dark clouds of totalitarianism again are gathering in the distance. The United States needs to assume its proper and historic role as a beacon to the world and the defender of liberty. It needs to be the adult amid the nations of the world. 

One governor may not be able to make that happen alone, but we applaud the use of influence to lead a groundswell that could make a difference. Few other things are more important right now.