Sitting in Badger High School’s music room in this Walworth County town, House Speaker Paul Ryan ticks through the issues he considers critical to the country’s growth.
Tax reform, his self-avowed duty to fix Obamacare, poverty, opioid addiction and a 100-year correction of 20th century progressivism are foremost on his mind.
So is civility.
“It’s pretty raw in the country right now,” he says.
Wherever he goes, but especially when young people are in the audience, Ryan stresses the importance of spreading civility. “It is something I talk to my staff and the members of my committee about,” he adds.
That’s a stark contrast to the chaos of a Washington, D.C., where he leads half of one of the three branches of government.
Ryan has just finished a question-and-answer session in an auditorium filled with social studies students in his Southeastern Wisconsin congressional district.
“I was pretty impressed to get a question about the 10th Amendment,” he says, maneuvering around the music room’s keyboards. He can play, he acknowledges, but decides against demonstrating his skills.
“We get hit so much, I say just don’t respond in kind, just kill with kindness, just let people get stuff off of their chest,” he says, explaining his instructions on civility.
He tells his staff and House members that they are, essentially, a vessel for people to express their frustration with government. His guidance is threefold: “Don’t take it personally. Help people process it. And don’t let your emotions get the best of you.”
He is not immune to the barrage of less-than-civil behavior: “I get it going to the grocery store. Going to track meets, you name it.”
Yet he says he won’t let that get in the way of reforms that the Republican congressional majority wants to put in place by year’s end.
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