Yesterday, I penned a brief missive on my Facebook page regarding pleas for civility in the political world. I’m not sure I said everything I wanted to in that initial post, so I’m going to spit out a quick follow-up. I hope this makes some degree of sense…
Less than two years ago, a famously vulgar man managed to eke out an electoral college win in the US Presidential election, despite frequently uttering crass language, owning a long history of racism and misogyny, and frequently calling for violence against his opponents. Oh yeah, and that whole… whaddyacallit… constant lying thing.
And believe it or not, despite this, I have previously found myself agreeing with those on the left (and some of the more genteel pundits on the right) who argued that Trump opponents would be best to avoid sinking to his level. Michelle Obama famously exhorted the Democratic Convention to “go high, when they go low.”
Nearly two years after that convention, Donald Trump is president. And to list the failures and harmful acts of his administration in a comprehensive manner would now take many thousands of words. Hell, it took me almost 6,000 words just to list his faults and failures BEFORE he became president. If one has been paying attention (and has avoided trapping themselves in a self-sustaining media bubble), they likely already comprehend the disaster that has been the Trump presidency.
Suffice to say, while a lack of civility has been a good way to describe the atmosphere of this administration – it isn’t even close the root of the problem.
Yes, Donald Trump frequently tweets insults about people he feels have wronged him – usually celebrities, politicians, and members of the media. Yes, he famously bragged about sexually assaulting women with impunity. And he certainly implored his supporters to physically harm those who opposed him.
Donald Trump is an uncivil man (to be extremely generous). And doing the same things he does back to him would be a pointless and unfortunate endeavor. I personally don’t recommend it.
But lately, something else has been happening, thrown under the larger umbrella of “uncivil” behavior. Citizens opposing the words and actions of the President have been pushing back with more than just scathing thinkpieces, or participation in the occasional subuded march down their local Main Street.
The White House press secretary was asked (politely and discreetly) to leave a restaurant. A senior policy advisor and the head of Homeland Security were both heckled at other restaurants. The Florida attorney general – a prominent Trump supporter – was heckled at a movie theater. A comedian called the press secretary a liar to her face. A Democratic congresswoman expressed support for the aforementioned shenanigans.
Naturally, politicians and pundits on the right have had a field day with this. “So much for liberal tolerance” is basically a reflex statement for many American conservatives. Yet, those snowflakes have been blowing up at every perceived transgression against them for ages now, so it’s not like there’s any surprise recent events have, um… triggered them.
But now, prominent centrists, and even liberals have also been aghast at the perceived poor manners of those opposing Donald Trump. There seems to be a reflexive urge among some to treat “civility” as an overarching principle that must never be compromised.
But this definition of civility has such a narrow scope.
When I mentioned near the beginning of this piece that I agree it’s best not to behave like Trump in opposing him – that’s not the same as saying “confrontation should always be avoided.” Telling a liar to their face that they are indeed a liar isn’t what I would call uncivil. Allowing a harmful lie to spread and be accepted by the populace as fact – well, I think that’s far more harmful to civil society.
Being polite and attempting to stick to the old norms clearly isn’t working. The Trump Administration doesn’t care about facts and rational debate.
I’m not saying we have to act as though norms are meaningless. But we do need to understand that only one side cares about them anymore, and if we ever want them to exist again, we may have to stop pretending that David Brooks and Thomas Friedman represent the modern conservative consensus.
Sarah Sanders is the propaganda spreader. She parrots the lies of her boss – and the rest of this corrupt and incompetent administration.
Kirstjen Nielsen is in charge of an already highly problematic law enforcement organization that exists primarily as a massive overreach against supposed threats to national security. Much of the blame for the manufactured humanitarian crisis of forcibly separated refugee children lies at her feet.
Stephen Miller is an avowed white nationalist, and is the primary architect behind explicitly bigoted policies like the anti-Muslim travel ban.
Pam Bondi, as Florida Attorney General, solicited and (then received) a bribe from Donald Trump in order to back away from prosecuting his tax fraud.
All of them have supported and defended (and in 3 cases, worked for) a man who has averaged more than 6 public lies a day for the past five hundred plus days, who is a confessed sexual predator, and whose administration is guilty of providing aid and comfort to dictators, disrupting global trade, badly crippling the chances of slowing climate change, worsening economic inequality, rapidly increasing the national debt, and disenfranchising millions of voters (to name but a few misdeeds).
Why are we allowing the conversation to shift to civility?
Let’s look at it another way:
Have you ever pointed at something in front of a dog? Generally, the dog doesn’t look where you’re pointing. They usually look at your finger. They miss the… um, point.
That’s what we’re dealing with here.
Worrying about civility is completely missing the point. If protesters physically harmed Nielsen or Miller, or the restaurant owner gave other customers Sanders’ home address – or if something equally wrong had occurred – THEN we could talk about the need for civility.
That’s not what happened. But what did happen isn’t what’s important here.
People who have been entrusted with running the American government are committing long-lasting harm against this country, and its people. They’ve managed to cause harm to people who aren’t even citizens.
For months, they’ve been HOLDING CHILDREN HOSTAGE for the sake of scoring a potential legislative victory.
Why should we allow them to be comfortable about this? Why should we, as citizens – THEIR BOSSES – allow them to cause the harm they’ve caused without some pushback? Sarah Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen, Stephen Miller, and Pam Bondi are supposed to be accountable to the citizens of this land. Americans exercising their right to protest is something that only strengthens our democracy.
Protest isn’t always “civil.” So what? Why is that suddenly the point? Why is the party of “Grab them by the pussy” so worried about people playing nice? And why is the opposition so worried about offending the pussy grabber?
Why the hell are we looking at the finger, and not the problem that its pointing to?
I do my best to be civil in my personal affairs. I say please and thank you, and do my best not to interrupt. I try to avoid using personal insults. When all things are equal, I think this is the best way to operate on a daily basis.
However, things are not equal, and have not been equal for some time.
Push aside talk of civility. Don’t let them distract you. There are serious problems we need to talk about. If it takes making the causes of these problems a bit uncomfortable from time to time, so be it. Sometimes that’s what it takes to force change. Being nice certainly hasn’t helped.
Sarah Sanders had to take her dinner to go. Her boss instituted a policy of taking children from their parents as they came to the border to seek asylum, then held them in detention in order to force a vote on his pipedream of a border wall.
Why are we focusing on Sarah’s dinner?