A debate has been raging among political observers about civility in the wake of White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders being politely asked to leave a restaurant where several LGTBQ workers were employed. Some Democrats denounced the move as uncivil, while others, like Rep Maxine Waters, encouraged Democrats to confront public officials who openly support bigotry and immorality.
Anyone reading this blog would hopefully call themselves anti fascist. But unlike the small and misguided “Antifa” movement, anyone reading this would also hopefully reject violence as a political tool. Violence is only justified in defending against actual violence. Nothing is more counter-productive to a social justice movement than violence, and nothing is more socially and culturally powerful than peaceful protest. This is why Charlottesville Nazis preparing for a new march in DC in August told their followers (in recently leaked emails) to try to coax counter-protesters into violence, so they could play the victims. The history of the twentieth century demonstrates the effectiveness of the principle of non-violence over and over. Gandhi in India, Aquino in the Philippines, Mandela in South Africa, Solidarnosc in Poland, and Martin Luther King in the United States. Non-violence has to remain at the core of the Resistance movement.
But civility and non-violence are not the same. Civility means formality, graciousness, consideration, and respect. Incivility means informality, lack of consideration, and disrespect. We can be uncivil while also being peaceful and non-violent. We don’t have to respect bigotry or cruelty, nor do we need to lend consideration to ideas like white supremacy that history long ago rejected. Insult and disrespect are not violent when they focus on abhorrent policies, ideas, and political positions, and this applies to Trump and Sanders and anyone else in the public sphere. “Abusing” an idea is not the same as abusing a person. “Child separation is disgusting” is in no way similar to “your face is disgusting.”
Resistors are well-advised to stay away from ad-hominem attacks and stick to criticizing policies. It’s easy to insult Trump on his hair or his weight or his grammar, but it does absolutely no good and may actually strengthen support from his fans. On the other hand, saying fuck Trump or fuck McConnell (or any other public figure) is not an act of violence, nor is it an ad hominem comment. It is a rejection of what that person symbolizes. It is not an act of violence, but rather an act of defiance and concern. Likewise, if a political operative colludes with Russia and we call that person a traitor, it is neither mean nor inappropriate but instead an accurate description born of legitimate concern for our nation.
Anger is not violence–it is an appropriate reaction to the destruction of political institutions, democratic norms and hard-won progress. We have to embrace our anger while making sure it never boils over into violence or threats of violence, instead using it to motivate and mobilize voters. It’s vital that we also use it to fuel expression in the public square, which conservatives have done for thirty years on Fox “news” and AM radio. Other voters horrified and angered by Trump need to know that they are not alone, and that their fears are not misplaced or blown out of proportion. When faced with vile statements and abhorrent policies, we can’t tip-toe. We have to call out bullshit when we encounter it and confront, in public, political operatives who support bigotry and cruelty and white supremacy. Outrage has no need for civility.
If there was ever a time to be uncivil, it is now. Trump is behaving like a guilty criminal trying to evade the law, so it makes sense to assume Mueller has discovered criminal acts and will eventually confront Trump. If Trump is able to nominate and install Judges who believe that the President is above the law, can pardon himself for crimes, and cannot be subpoenaed, then our Democracy is in grave jeopardy. So protest and incivility are not just appropriate but essential, especially when the opposition has no qualms about incivility whatsoever, starting with the king of the personal attack, Donald Trump, the most vicious, divisive and cruel president in modern American history.
Where is John Faso? He’s railing against the scourge of cockfighting (no joke!) and Tweeting constantly about opioids (as if he’s the only American aware of the overdose epidemic). But he said nothing about the massive protests against Trump’s “zero tolerance policy” that took place yesterday across the nation, including many in our district. Whatever Faso’s convictions on borders separation might be, he does not have the courage to express them in public, especially if they go against Dear Leader Trump. Equally lame is that Faso supported the dismantling of the ACA and policies that gave tax breaks to billionaires at the expense of our social safety net. Our absentee Congressman continues to fail as a leader. We need to circle the wagons around Antonio Delgado and send Faso back to his old lobbying job. The stakes couldn’t be higher for our Democracy, and it’s time to channel our anger and outrage into motivating and mobilizing voters. Let’s keep working to Fire Feckless Faso.