Sunday, June 24, 2018

On public shaming of, and service denial to, political officials

On Friday, June 22, a small restaurant in Lexington, Va. turned away President Trump's press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, due to the restaurant owner's political disagreement with her work. The restaurant owner talked to her employees and then asked Sanders to come outside with her where she explained her decision. It was not an isolated occurrence; Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and senior policy advisor Stephen Miller were recently shouted at in Mexican restaurants. Dean Obeidallah, writing that "[a]s a progressive, I feel that denying service to a person is instinctively troubling," nevertheless concluded that these incidents were "not even in the same universe" as excluding someone "for their race, religion or sexual orientation. The backlash is because they have freely chosen to be a part of the Trump administration..." He worries about a politicized version of Newton's third law of motion, "For every action, there's an overreaction," or, in other words, that many more people will retaliate and exclude each other. Despite the risk of rampant intolerance, however, "[t]he reality is that for many, the stakes are simply too high to remain silent".

The day after Sanders was ejected, the Washington Post published Jennifer Rubin's opinion:

If you think the decision to separate children from parents as a means of deterring other asylum seekers is simply one more policy choice, like tax cuts or negotiations with North Korea, then, yes, screaming at political opponents is inappropriate. Such conduct is contrary to the democratic notion that we do not personally destroy our political opponents but, rather, respect differences and learn to fight and perhaps compromise on another day. If, however, you think the child-separation policy is in a different class — a human rights crime, an inhumane policy for which the public was primed by efforts to dehumanize a group of people (“animals,” “infest,” etc.) — then it is both natural and appropriate for decent human beings to shame and shun the practitioners of such a policy.

Rubin's position is that "it is not altogether a bad thing to show those who think they’re exempt from personal responsibility that their actions bring scorn, exclusion and rejection. If you don’t want to provoke wrath, don’t continue to work for someone whose cruel and inhumane treatment of others rivals the internment of U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II."

In response to a Twitter thread started on Sunday by Tom Nichols, Ayo Griffin acknowledged that there are reasons for people to feel ambivalent about ejecting the president's press secretary from a restaurant but nonetheless he objected that Sanders "keeps playing the victim card and getting sympathy," while Duncan Rouleau said "the definition of civility is under assault along with our institutions. Sometimes being uncivil is an act of morality."

On Sunday, the Washington Post editorial board weighed in. Sanders was turned away because the restaurant's gay staff members "objected to Ms. Sanders’s defense of Mr. Trump’s discriminatory policies against transgender people. The staff also objected to the administration’s recent actions leading to the separation of thousands of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border." The Washington Post sees this as resulting partly from a "blurred" separation "between work hours and private time" and argues that Trump administration officials "should be allowed to eat dinner in peace. Those who are insisting that we are in a special moment justifying incivility should think for a moment how many Americans might find their own special moment."

(They follow this with: "How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?" Actually, this requires no imagination at all, as it's a matter of recent historical fact that abortion doctors have been harassed at home and assassinated in their clinics and even at church.)

"Down that road," they say, "lies a world in which only the most zealous sign up for public service." The suggestion is that some segment of the population will always disagree with the current administration and, if it is considered acceptable for members of the public to disrupt the personal lives of these officials, officials will need extra "zeal" to put up with this.

This point seems a bit off-kilter for several reasons. First, if we are going to distinguish public and private spheres, we should see that being "allowed to eat dinner in peace" or being "able to live peaceably with their families" [emphases mine] is distinct from asking to be served dinner in a restaurant. And as far as expecting equal service at a business, the obvious hypocrisy is that the current administration has been pushing so-called "religious freedom bills" to allow business owners to deny service to customers based on the business owners' "sincerely held" religious or moral beliefs and that these same political officials are discovering that they do not like such discrimination when the exclusion affects them. In the Washington Post's warning about potential hypocrisy on the part of liberals who would discriminate against Republicans ("think for a moment how many Americans might find their own special moment"), they miss the call-out of the Republicans' current hypocrisy on the subject of freedom to discriminate on moral grounds. Moreover, if one is not already a zealot for bad causes, one should meet very little resistance from business owners. Most small restaurant owners in most normal times would be thrilled to have the president's press secretary show up for dinner. Yes, you need extra zeal to endure call-outs of your moral beliefs, but you won't be discriminated against very often if you aren't already using your zeal in ways that are morally unpopular among the constituents whose interests you purport to serve. The proper emphasis here is first that powerful people shouldn't use their energies for evil, and a more distant second that — as the Washington Post chose to emphasize first today — less powerful people should consider how their activist methods drain the energy of powerful people who are using their energies for evil.

David Roberts dissents from the Washington Post's position. He threads his tweets today, saying that, for decades, liberals have been

dismissed as crazy partisan hippies, condemned as "uncivil," told they are part of the problem, because being mad about illiberalism is just like illiberalism. The question has always been, where do you draw the line? At what point in the GOP's devolution do we say: OK, that's too far. We're no longer in Normal Politics. We're in a crisis situation, on the verge of losing our democracy. Where is the line? The most insidious thing about the descent into illiberalism is that it is incremental. There's no dramatic moment, no Rubicon. Every step seems bad, but only a little worse than the previous step. Smart autocrats are careful not to provide that moment. As this slide into illiberalism has continued, the mainstream DC establishment, including the sorts of Very Serious People that write major newspaper editorials, have *helped prevent that moment*. They have normalized, normalized, normalized, greasing the skids. ... By jailing toddlers, Trump has potentially made a mistake. Instead of incremental illiberalism, this seems like a jump, something to shock the conscience. It is yet another opportunity for a Moment, a time for the rest of us to say: no. This is not normal. It's not ok. That what's the owner of the Red Hen was doing by refusing to serve Sanders: saying, No. This is not just a normal political dispute that can remain confined to the political sphere. You cannot support this & still expect to be treated like a normal, decent person. The owner was trying to draw a line, disrupt the normal daily patterns of civility & accommodation, create a Moment around which people can rally to echo the message: No. This is not normal, not "just politics." We must stop pretending it is; we must snap out of hypnosis. And so, right on cue, the Very Serious People ride to the rescue of the aspiring tyrants, saying, yet again: Calm Down. Let's not get crazy here. Let's not be RUDE. Heavens no. We must retain our decorum at all costs. WaPo editors say that accepting incivility (gasp) is a "slippery slope." But that gets it exactly wrong. WE ARE ALREADY ON THE SLIPPERY SLOPE. It's a slope that leads to illiberalism, violence, & collapse. It's a slope greased accommodation & civility. ... The Very Serious People who serve as tone police in DC need to decide what they value more: democracy or civility. Because we're just sliding, sliding, sliding down this slope, pretending all the while that things are still Normal. To get off the slide will, almost by definition, require a break with Normal. It will require some sand in the gears, some raised voices, some violations of decorum and precedent. I dunno if restaurant service is the right mechanism, or even a good one. No one knows. (tweets 5-8, 11-15, 17-18)
Some Twitter users responding to Roberts suggested that, while speaking up risks incivility, not saying anything risks complicity. One said: "There's a name for those that politely sit on the sidelines, unwilling to question or call out viciousness and cruelty perpetrated by their nation's leaders: COLLABORATORS." Another said that "this, like the 1930s, is a time when the 'let's work through this, let's not make a fuss' people are just plain wrong." A third offered a slightly different perspective, saying, "we don't shame them be we think it will change them. We know it won't, it never has. We must shame them publicly to hold the line of True Decency™, so that we don't become them by our silence."

Ryan Cooper in The Week on Monday, June 25:

Nobody jumped Miller and beat him senseless, or made any violent threats, or even broke anything. The confrontation was all clearly within the nonviolent political tradition of boycott, protest, civil disobedience, and so forth.

If there is any main wellspring of "incivility" (an extremely ill-defined word, but setting that aside), it comes from the monstrously evil actions of the Trump regime. This administration — which is full to bursting with criminals and con artists stuffing their pockets with public money — put forth a policy of snatching the children of asylum seekers and putting them in concentration camps. It is obviously motivated by a racial panic over demographic change making white people no longer the majority. Anti-immigrant hardliners like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) are not remotely subtle about this.

Who's uncivil? The president:

He's a man who has boasted about sexual assault on tape, who threatens to jail his political opponents, who lies with practically every breath, who makes a mockery of deliberative democracy, and who is more publicly coarse and rude than any president since Andrew Johnson. And because he is the most powerful person on Earth, that incivility is 10,000 times more influential than any lefty protester on Earth.

Cooper said that "civility in itself is routinely used to disguise grotesque crimes" and reminded us that "even allowing a civil debate on very odious opinions can create an unwarranted bias in their favor". He invited us to imagine a world in which "powerful people experienced severe social ostracization in the nation's capital when they committed or enabled terrible crimes."

Dan Rather told CNN on June 25 that the president is "mean as a wolverine," which is unprecedented in American politics and contributes to an unprecedented level of incivility.

This image was widely shared on social media:

Trump also bragged during the campaign that he would not lose support if he murdered someone, did not fire his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after he was accused of grabbing a female reporter, and supported a Republican politician after he bodyslammed a male reporter, breaking the reporter's glasses. In April 2017, Trump invited Ted Nugent to the White House despite Nugent's many prior uncivil comments such as calling Hillary a "worthless bitch" and Obama a "subhuman mongrel".

There is the argument that people who perceive a threat to themselves do not believe they have the option of civility:

Rin Chupeco threaded these tweets on June 25, arguing that the right's request to the left for civility is a mere bid to have the left sit quietly while the right steamrolls them.

Speaking as someone born in the last years of a dictatorship, you Americans are already several steps in one. ... Marcos was also adept at convincing regular Filipinos that "as long as you don't commit crimes I won't come for you. I'm only getting rid of the 'filth'." He lied, of course. He jailed his most vocal opponents, people whose businesses he wanted to confiscate for his use. But Filipinos have always been susceptible to strongman personality cults, just like your Republicans. (...Repubs still singing Reagan's praises despite the fact he was FRIENDS with Marcos and helped him retain power, making it 1000x worse for us.) White people, journalists who insist on civility- you seem to think civility is a common ground you share with opponents like Trump et al. Here's a clue - whenever you offer these assholes middle ground, they will invade that space & then claim you never gave them ground at all. Marcos kept pushing. First it was all protesters were communists. All student protesters. Then it was the free press. Then it was the people with businesses he coveted. And then it was anyone who looked at Imelda Marcos or his daughter, Imee, wrong. Arrested, raped, murdered. ... White people asking for performative civility do the same thing they did, for the same reason - they're afraid. You've never been raised to fear discrimination or prejudice against a system that has always been built in your favor for centuries. Your argument for civility is a terrified lashing out against an uncertain future that your ancestors / fellow white people have subjected people of color to for centuries. It's built in POC culture to learn how to cope with this. You've had none, because you've never needed to. ... In any upheaval, white people have the least casualties. That makes them the last demographic wanting to rock the boat, even if the boat is full of Nazis steering it straight into Auschwitz. ... And here's the kicker: YOU KNOW THEY'RE NOT CIVIL. That's why it's the liberals you keep appealing to for decorum and politeness. You know you're not going to get most Trumpsters on board anything amounting to basic decency. ... "So much for the tolerant left." This is why they say this all the fucking time. This is the bait they expect you to fall for. Your required "tolerance" for the things they do, even as they do the exact opposite to you. The first requirement when approaching any discussion with civility is that both sides must come to the table with it. The side that advocates putting kids in cages and are now thinking of stripping citizenship from legal green card holders, never had that to begin with.

Renée Graham wrote in the Boston Globe on June 26 that "the Great Civility Crisis of 2018...was an inane talking point even before White House fabulist Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant last weekend."

For those supporting bakers who refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, or a pharmacist who declines to fill a prescription because he has a moral objection to its medical use, think of Wilkinson’s stance as a faith-based decision. And one of the tenets of that faith is an aversion to lies, racism, incompetence, and cruelty.

That’s what’s driving this. Well, that, and a furious unwillingness to surrender our nation quietly to Trump and his dystopian hellscape. You don’t bring Miss Manners to a no-holds-barred street fight. You resist, and you get angry.

I ignore anyone who claims we must respect and listen to the anger of Trump voters, even as they denounce anger on the left as counterproductive and self-defeating. Stoking anger, especially racial resentment, got Trump to the White House. No one told his supporters wearing “Trump That Bitch” or “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required” T-shirts to be civil.

Civility is a buzzy word for the ultimate goal: submission. Republicans don’t want civility. They want us to shut up. It’s civility in the form of a boot on our collective necks.

"Civility," she said, "will not defeat the most uncivil man ever to occupy the White House."

John Pavlovitz wrote that the Right is hypocritical to call for civility:

After voting for a self-proclaimed genitalia-grabber.
After he suggested dissenters at his rallies should be beaten up.
After hearing him call violent nazis “fine people.”
After he bulldozed sacred Native American lands and turned frigid hoses on tribe elders.
After he ignored mass deaths in Puerto Rico and vilified their public servants.
After he began dismantling protections to our planet and shrinking our national parks.
After witnessing Flint, Michigan go without clean water.
After watching exhausted refugee families stranded at airports.
After leveraging religion to justify all manner of discrimination.
After ignoring evidence of a Russian interference that threatens our national sovereignty.
After seeing ICE raids in hospital rooms and workplaces.
After his gross, reckless fabrications about Muslims and Mexicans and immigrants.
After witnessing him work tirelessly to take healthcare from the sick and the poor.
After he vilified kneeling black athletes and badgered their employers into silencing their peaceful protest.
After his unhinged Twitter rants against private citizens and their businesses, against celebrities and political opponents and world leaders.
After terrorizing teenage shooting survivors on social media.
After allowing the radicalized Christian right and soulless NRA gun zealots to shape national policy.
After sanctioning Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka and Jeff Sessions.
After retweeting the toxic filth of Dana Loesch and Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter.
After celebrating while he’s alienated our greatest allies and aligned with malevolent dictators.
After your silence in the face of migrant children being ripped from their parent’s arms and placed in dog kennels.
After digging in your heels for the past two years on every bit of it.

No, he said:

We’re going to be unflinching, and we’re going to use our outside voices, and we aren’t going to mince words when it comes to the inherent worth of human beings, the affronts on our Constitution, or the hijacking of our faith traditions.
You can call that uncivilized if you’d like, but honestly we don’t give a damn.
We’re going to be profoundly pissed off whenever diversity is threatened or when human beings are treated as less-than or when religion is invoked to do harm or when America’s stability is under attack.
In the face of the inhumane things on display in this country right now, we’ll take the cause of humanity and our volume every single time.
We’re going to be loud in the cause of love, even if that sounds like anger in your ears.
The LA Times editorial board wrote on June 26:
...refusing to serve a meal to a White House spokesman or confronting an administration official in a department store doesn’t make the case for change any more than chanting “Lock her up” at a rally.

The better solution is to defend American institutions and the rule of law, to meet untruths with facts, to answer ravings with rationality in the public sphere. The courts must be given the opportunity to defend the Constitution, and thoughtful lawmakers from both parties must speak out against and work to change hateful policies. The system can still work. When the administration went all-in on separating migrant parents from their children, the public rose up, and Trump backed down.

Well, no, he didn't back down. He came up with a different evil-genius plan to keep families together by locking them up indefinitely, in violation of laws that specify that children cannot be detained longer than 20 days. The system may still work, but this is is not proof of that.

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, after resigning from the Republican party, told Rolling Stone on June 27 that

"The effect of Trump is the justification it gives to people who are angered by Trump to act more like Trump. To debase themselves into opposition. If you want to oppose Trump, the first thing you should do is say, "I'm not going to do one thing that makes it worse." Because making it worse helps Trump. Part of the damage of this era is his debasement and his purposeful divisions. That's unique in all of history."

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