I’m not on Facebook, so I cannot respond directly to my Democratic/Liberal friend’s post that initially stoked my ire and disappointment. Since that post, there have been numerous articles and Op-Eds calling for the People’s response to mass atrocities and inhumane actions to be more publicly “civil.” Yet, like my friend on Facebook, so many of the people calling for this are otherwise intelligent individuals with ginormous hearts. That is why I hold out hope that these words may be heard and considered with seriousness and openness by those who may not yet realize the negative repercussions of calling for the same “restraint.”
The Democrat’s current mantra of a “Return to Civility” is no different from Trump’s “Make America great again.” It’s a form of propaganda that can only be said with any seriousness by people with privilege; by people for whom these issues aren’t actually life and death. I find it to be both reckless and immensely harmful, even though I believe that is often the opposite of its intent. This misguided call for civility has recently been exemplified in this Washington Post article: Liberal hostility toward Trump aides could galvanize the GOP base and this L.A. Times Op-Ed: Making Trump officials miserable doesn’t accomplish anything. Vote them out if you want change.
Unfortunately, it’s the same mindset that allowed the majority of white Democrats to consider Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. an “enemy of the State” and a “threat to Democracy” at the time of his assassination. It’s the same voice as those who thought the Vietnam war protests were a “formula for discord.” It’s the same privileged view that, in 1966, a Harris Poll revealed 54 percent of whites said that they would not march or protest if they “were in the same position as Negroes,” and two months later, in October 1966, that 85 percent of whites insisted that civil rights demonstrations hurt Negroes more than they helped (sound familiar?). By starting down this slippery slope, one ends up siding with the people who perpetuate oppression and atrocities while allowing oneself to feel as if you are fighting or resisting them, but from a more “dignified” place. What this unwittingly ensures is that there will be little-to-no consequence for politicians who commit atrocities. God forbid there should be “public” consequences, lifestyle consequences or discomfort.
I know many believe there can still be consequences and action if only we allow due process and maintain civility or, as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and other Leading Democrats so indifferently proposed, to “critically reexamine” ICE. History and the repeated actions of today’s Democratic Party Leadership have shown that to be nothing more than ineffective double-speak for tepid action and more platitudes. It’s a false narrative that ends up promoting “Go back to sleep and let us keep doing what we’ve always done.” Obama was responsible for so many of the same horrors we now feel outrage toward Trump for. But his “civility” allowed us to perceive it differently. The end result is the same: continued mass oppression with no consequences for the oppressors. Obama’s civility allowed mass murder, illegal torture, & that every criminal responsible for the collapse of the world economy and the livelihoods of tens of millions of people go without consequence. “We need to look forward,” was his civil response. Asking me or anyone else to trust that Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer or Tom Perez or Adam Schiff are going to change all this – any of this – in civil tones or otherwise, is simply choosing to allow it to perpetuate because it doesn’t effect you personally, even if you hate the idea of it, even if it breaks your heart.
It’s also a denial of history. Does anyone believe the accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement would have been the same or even better without civil action and civil disobedience? Or that the Vietnam War would have ended sooner if there had not been mass protests lacking “civility?” This isn’t “ugly,” this is what it looks like when people express outrage at atrocities. This is what it looks like when politicians don’t hold each other accountable and have real-world consequences.
Be wary of telling people how they should express outrage, how they should take action. The powers-that-be have such incredible reign – both lawful and lawless – over the lives of millions and there are only a handful of ways in which the people can effectively respond and take action. To try and eliminate or discourage the public heckling of politicians is, quite literally, aiding those who already hold immense power over others. Public displays of outrage for incredibly unpopular and life-threatening policies is making sure that the actions of those in power have concrete social consequences. It is a powerful tool and one of the few available to the people. Being outraged by the inhumane actions and policies of a ruling administration and, at the same time, shaking your fingers at the public for being “uncivil” toward them is the height of hypocrisy. It’s handing another weapon to those in power while pulling more teeth out of the mouths of the oppressed and suffering.
I know it’s not the intention of most, but propagating this very destructive rhetoric will perpetuate the suffering of millions. It is the epitome of the fecklessness of today’s Democratic Party and exactly why Trump will win again and ensure that whoever enters office after him, Democrat or Republican, will continue to use “civility” or “bi-partisanship” as an excuse for not taking action and making sure others don’t as well. I dare say politicians on the Left now calling for civility are thinking ahead and hoping to discourage any public expressions of outrage toward politicians for when they, themselves, return to power and continue much of the same reprehensible behavior. And they’re brilliantly using their own constituents as the mouthpiece to further this narrative. But the language that is being used here has been used before. It is an age-old propaganda tool to get people to punch down at the oppressed and the outraged instead of punching up at the privileged and the oppressors. And it has always, throughout history, generated the same result. And I don’t think it’s the result most of the people calling for civility are intending.
I often return to MLK’s words in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation… We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society… There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”
Civility in the face or atrocity isn’t “dignifying,” it’s dehumanizing. If anyone now calling for civility toward mass-oppressors were, themselves, wrongfully imprisoned or had their child or children ripped from their arms (a.k.a. kidnapped, stolen) and mistreated, lost, caged, or simply “disappeared,” they wouldn’t be asking me or anyone else to be out here ensuring that their abusers get to dine in peace and quiet when they’re not otherwise destroying human lives. I expect, I hope, they would want me to seriously rattle some cages, show my outrage, make sure others heard loud and clear about the inhumane injustice that was being done to them and do everything possible to find and return their children – who are being abused & emotionally scarred with every passing day – back into their arms while there might still be time. I don’t think the public dining comfort of their oppressors would or should be a primary concern or desire. Nor do I believe they would prefer to wait the however-many extra years it might take for “civility” to get noticed, have an effect, and set them free or return their children home.
Be suspect of accidentally or purposely framing civil action, civil disobedience, protests or public outrage as “ugly,” “lacking civility,” “dangerous,” “anti-Democratic” “not American” or “ineffective.” That kind of rhetoric will mislead people into a false sense of “doing the right thing” or “going high” while others die.
It’s privilege that even allows this conversation to take place.
And here’s a shoutout to Raine Laurent whose recent Facebook post on this subject rocks:
“Pearl clutching liberals at the Washington Post are having a nervous breakdown over ICE officials being confronted by citizens, by Sarah Sanders getting tossed out of a restaurant, etc. because they see government agents actually being subject to popular anger as some sort of deepening, dangerous “division”.
“That’s the liberal’s favorite scare word, “division”, because to be “divisive” you have to actually stand for something, and that’s absolute anathema to the liberal sensibility.
“Yes, it’s horrible to be building Concentration camps for children while we lie about the death toll in Puerto Rico and slash social security and Medicare but for God’s sake let’s all remain civil!”. The liberal imagination can tolerate the world on fire as long it’s addressed within the framework of friendly debate. Liberals seems caught in this bizarre contradiction where they know that politics have consequences but demand that people never behave as such.
“Reminds me of a certain remark about how liberals prefer the absence of tension to the presence of Justice.”
Highly recommended reading & listening: