In my last piece, I advocated for liberal unity and support of the DNC. I deliberately did not, however, make any claims about what that cohesion needs to look like.
That’s what this post is for.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the role civility should play in politics. The discussion began when protesters drove Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirsjten Nielsen out of a Mexican restaurant by yelling “shame,” after a press conference in which she defended her agency’s policy of separating families at the border. Days later, immigration policy architect Stephen Miller was also eating at a Mexican restaurant when he was called a fascist by neighboring patron. Soon after, White House press correspondent Sarah Huckabee Sanders was denied service by a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. When Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) publicly voiced her support for the public confrontation of Trump officials at a rally in Los Angeles, however, what was a discussion became a debate.
Conservative politicians and publications have used this as an opportunity to turn away from some of their more controversial policies in favor of lamenting the lack of civility in America. Fine, let’s talk about civility.
Civility died two years ago. Trump won by campaigning for an end to political correctness, telling anyone who would listen that our country has become so obsessed with offensiveness that it infringes on the fundamental American right to say what we want. He rode into office as the candidate willing to tell it like it is, “crying liberals” be damned. Trump has railed against political correctness 37 times on Twitter, frequently using it as the ending note of his campaign appearances.
So that’s when civility died. It died with “lock her up” chants, comments about Mexican rapists, and impressions of disabled reporters.
Now, several conservative editorials and politicians have decreed public confrontation, among other actions, “uncivil and not neighborly.” Republican political adviser David Gergen claimed on CNN that today’s protests are less “civil in tone” than the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and 1970s. Marco Rubio complained about the use of the word “fuck” by a Capital Gazette reporter who survived the deadly shooting at her workplace.
I’m just going to say it: conservative lawmakers asking for civility is absurd. It’s beyond hypocritical. We are well past civility.
"Don't fight hate with hate" is the perfect example of the way conservative attacks on political correctness are used to gaslight the public. Calls for liberal civility by conservatives equate legitimate hurt and suffering with the bigotry and actions of those in power.
These are not emotion-fueled policy debates spiraling out of control. These are basic disagreements over human rights. Historically, these kinds of divides have only ever been resolved by incivility and resolve in the face of calls to “calm down.” Just look at the civil rights movement. Look at suffrage.
As Atlantic journalist Ibram Kendi puts it, what is important is "not whether someone is engaging in political confrontation and harassment, but who and what someone is politically confronting and harassing. Are they harassing the oppressed like Trump, or harassing the oppressors?"
We are well within our rights to the actions conservative lawmakers are calling “rude.” Public confrontation is a far cry from invasion of personal space; conflating semi-public space like a privately owned restaurant with officials’ private homes is ridiculous. Businesses refuse service to thousands of people all over the US every day (and their right to has been solidified by the Supreme Court).
Protest organizer Jesse Rabinowitz put it succinctly when he told the Washington Post that in DC, “We don’t have political representation but we do have proximity to people in power.” That’s our strength – confronting those individuals responsible for mass suffering and forcing them to face the consequences of their actions.
We are facing an administration that separates families. An administration that lies to its nation daily. An administration that has stripped marginalized and impoverished American citizens of the services they need to survive. An administration run by a man who routinely and vigorously harasses vulnerable individuals online, advocating sexism and racism.
Trevor Noah got it 100 percent right on The Daily Show when he said that “People in power would like to be insulated from the effects of their actions. But if you’re in a position where you can influence other people’s lives, you shouldn’t be shocked when you hear from the people whose lives you affect.”
If you liked this story or are interested in reading more arguments for incivility, you can find them here.