Lots of talk about civility today. Do we even know what the word means? If we mean in-your-face nasty politics, that began a long time ago. Anyone remember the Tea Party rallies during the elections of 1999 and 2003? Sarah Palin? Lots of racial animus as an undertone then, but with the posters and yellings then we were pointed in the direction we have reached today. Trump just makes it all worse. If civility is as the dictionary says, formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech, I’m not sure we ever had it here in our United States politics. It seems more like something out of one of those English movies about Parliamentary history. If we knew more about our own history, we might remember the battles of earlier years when members of Congress threatened eachother with sticks, and duels between members were not uncommon.
The NPR program 1A Wednesday morning had a discussion on “civility” which I came in on the end of. One of the women, Christine Fair, seemed to support civility except when racism or her status as a woman were called into question. There, it seems to me, is the problem. People called names, asked to leave restaurants, denied a wedding cake or other service because of another person’s “deeply held beliefs” seem to have brought this on, at least among “liberals”.
Haven’t we been listening to childish name calling and meanness from the White House for the last year? Why the sudden hand-wringing about civility now? Does it do anyone any good to get in someone else’s face, because you disagree? What good does it do you to ask Ms. Sanders to leave your restaurant, to shout at diners in another restaurant, to call Stephen Miller a facist? Does it make Ms. Waters a better person? Will such behavior do anything to change people like Sanders and Miller or Trump?
Ms. Fair seemd to think that our very democracy was in danger of being destroyed, but she didn’t have the civility herself not to keep talking over the host, Joshua Johnson when he was trying to get her to stop. Yes, our democracy is in danger, but should we get down in the mud with Trump and his supporters. It seems far more important to do all we can to elect people who support democratic institutions and rule.
What threatens our democracy more is the retirement of Justice Kennedy giving Trump another chance to appoint a justice who will continue the assault on some of our freedoms.
And after several days, I’m still chewing on this topic. When has being civil gotten us anywhere? Civility didn’t halt the lynching of black people, the internment of Japanese, the slaughter and displacement of native Americans or the Chinese expulsion. At this point, Trump and his followers will probably see civility on the part of his opponents as weakness, and ratchet up the ugliness even more as Trey Gowdy and jim Jordan did yesterday in the Rosenstein hearings.