Monday, June 25, 2018


So we're having a civility war. Here's the story from Politico:
Two senior Trump administration officials were heckled at restaurants. A third was denied service. Florida GOP Attorney General Pam Bondi required a police escort away from a movie about Mister Rogers after activists yelled at her in Tampa — where two other Republican lawmakers say they were also politically harassed last week, one of them with her kids in tow.

In the Donald Trump era, the left is as aggressively confrontational as anyone can remember.

What it means for 2018 — whether it portends a blue wave of populist revolt for Democrats or a red wall of silent majority resistance from Republicans — largely depends on one’s political persuasion. But there’s a bipartisan sense that this election season marks another inflection point in the collapse of civil political discourse.
The responses to this are falling into two categories: support from the left (see, for instance, Yastreblyansky yesterday) and tone-policing from both right and the center. I'm having a third reaction: Sure, I detest the Republican muckamucks who are being harassed -- but I think this is a war we probably can't win.

Consider a couple of passages deep in the Politico story:
As Republicans complain about the confrontations, Democrats say it’s a simple reaction to the president’s radical policies. It’s little different, they say, than what conservatives did to Democratic lawmakers during President Obama’s first midterm election, when town halls became spectacles of shouting over Obamacare.

“This is certainly nothing new,” Rep. Dina Titus, a Nevada Democrat, said in recounting her 2010 loss when tea party activists would use bullhorns when she would host “Congress on the Corner” events in front of grocery stores. “There was [also] a lady who followed me around everywhere ... I also recall that some of the tea party people spit on some of our members as they walked into the House to vote.”
Former Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello, who lost his 2010 reelection in Virginia and was an unsuccessful candidate for governor last year, said the atmosphere was more toxic eight years ago for elected officials, many of whom were subject to death threats.
Yes, and see what happened? Nobody cared, just as nobody cared in the first year of the Trump presidency when there were reports like this:
Democratic candidates in Iowa and upstate New York have dropped out of political races in recent weeks, citing physical threats and concern for their families’ safety.

Hours after discussing his bid for mayor in Binghamton, New York on local radio in April, Michael Treiman said he was emailed threats directed at his wife and children. The same evening, someone driving by his home yelled “liberal scumbag,” and hit him with a soda container while he was holding one of his toddlers....

Kim Weaver, an Iowan candidate for the House of Representatives, dropped out of the race on June 3, citing “very alarming acts of intimidation, including death threats.”
And this:
One caller says the Congress member should be lynched. Another leaves a voicemail promising, “You’ll be hanging from a tree.” Others used the n-word against him multiple times in the same message.

About two weeks ago, Rep. Al Green (D-TX) took to the floor of the House of Representatives and became the first House Democrat to formally request charges leading to the impeachment of President Donald Trump....

Since then, hundreds of calls, emails, and letters have flooded in, with dozens containing racial slurs or death threats. (Green’s staff has made three of the worst ones public here.)
And this:
Rep. Frederica Wilson received a warm welcome at the Capitol Wednesday, her first time back since death threats kept her home in Florida last week amid a feud with President Donald Trump....

Wilson said she remains undeterred after the death threats that followed her public feud with Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The spat started two weeks ago after Wilson criticized Trump’s call to a soldier’s widow and shared details of the call with media, after which the White House went after her.

Wilson said she now has increased security back home in her South Florida district....
When this happens to Democrats, our political culture doesn't regard it as a civility crisis. But when we cast civility aside, even in a non-violent, non-threatening way, it's deemed a national emergency.

Why? In part it's because Republicans have a far superior messaging operation, and far greater discipline. It's also because the right's top media outlets are nakedly partisan, while the "liberal" media becomes a collection of easily worked refs when liberals and Democrats breach decorum.

But I think it's more than that. In our political culture's (warped) view, incivility by the left is regarded as the work of the superior, dominant elite class, while rough treatment of Democrats by the right is the underdogs' revenge against the dominant class. Even the "liberal" media seems to agree on this. And this true even though, at this moment, conservative "underdogs" are defending the party that runs all three branches of government and represents the interests of corporate plutocrats.

Some of this recalls the 1960s and the subsequent backlash. In that era, the right said that left-wing demonstrators were cosseted children of privilege. When construction workers expressed their anger with these demonstrators, the hard hats were regarded as the Real Americans.

Those archetypes persist. Tea Party members who harassed congressional Democrats at town meetings in 2010 were Real Americans. Menacing and sometimes violent superfans at Trump rallies were Real Americans.

We're still seen as the spoiled brats from 1968.

Charlie Pierce offers this gloss on a Washington Post editorial about the recent restaurant incidents:
... Fred Hiatt’s Washington Post editorial page ... blurted out the most embarrassing single paragraph written about the events at the Red Hen. To wit:
We nonetheless would argue that Ms. Huckabee, and Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Miller, too, 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. 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?
... For the benefit of those people also living in Fred Hiatt’s Land Without History: abortion providers have been stalked. Their children have been stalked. Their places of business have been vandalized. And, lest we forget, doctors who perform abortions have been fucking killed! They’ve been gunned down in their clinics, in their kitchens, and in their churches. They have not been allowed to live peaceably with their families, Fred, you addlepated Beltway thooleramawn. They haven’t been allowed to live at all. I’m no expert, but I’m fairly sure that a bullet in the head is far more uncivil than a complementary fucking cheese plate. What is wrong with these people?
But that's how we view the two sides. Yes, attention is paid when an abortion doctor is actually shot, but the routine harassment at abortion clinics is widely ignored by insidery correct-thinkers, because the harassment is the work of salt-of-the-earth folk who eat in rural diners, and they Must Be Understood. But when the low-paid waitstaff and kitchen help at a small restaurant object to serving a key member of the president's staff whose job is to defend brutal policies, that's the Cultural Elite rising up. It's simply not acceptable.

So, yes, we have good reason to confront powerful Republicans -- it's speaking truth to power. But we'll never win doing it, because our political culture's arbiters think we're the powerful ones.

No comments: