When ‘civility’ becomes all the rage
Mr. Dooley wouldn’t understand our politics at all. Someone asked Finley Peter Dunne’s mythical Chicago bartender-cum-philosopher where he was going in such a hurry with a pair of brass knuckles. “I’m on my way to a Democratic unity meeting,” he said. The politicians of both parties still have unity meetings, and for the purpose they’ve always had them. But in an era when we have politically correct euphemisms for everything, the polite thing to do is to keep the brass knuckles hidden until they’re needed, and needed they nearly always are.
But something called “civility” is all the rage now. Newspaper columnists write about it, books are written about it, social media is rife with admonitions to be kind and gentle. Even George Soros says he’s all for kind and gentle, and he’s putting his millions where his mouth is. But those millions of Soros dollars are hanging out with some very suspicious characters.
Several organizations, notably including the Southern Poverty Law Center, announced the formation last week of something called “Change the Terms” to pressure Silicon Valley, which hardly needs encouraging, to throw conservatives into the street and if possible under the bus, crowded as that place may be.
The coalition warned that “white supremacists and other organizations that incite hatred are using online platforms to organize, fund, recruit supporters for, and normalize racism, sexism, religious bigotry, as well as anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant animus, among other activities.”
Well, that sounds like a good cause. Who’s for hate, racism, sexism, and religious bigotry? But the Southern Poverty Law Center wants to define the sins, and by their definitions that includes everybody who disagrees with them.
“They want to censor free speech,” says Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Christian non-profit Liberty Counsel, tells PJ Media. “Most people think of hate speech as somebody encouraging physical violence.” Groups like the coalition want “to extend it to anybody who doesn’t accept their views on LGBT issues, same-sex marriage, abortion, immigration or Islam.”
The poverty center, which is more than the usual telephone, laptop and Xerox machine of “a center,” is operated from a lavish office complex in downtown Montgomery, Ala., locally called the Poverty Palace.
The Poverty Center not only monitors the political views of those with whom they disagree, but theological views, too. Its usual targets are Christians and their faith, but not always. The “poor folks” at the Poverty Center, enriched by the millions of dollars taken in from well-meaning easy marks, recently paid $3,000,375 to settle a defamation lawsuit filed by Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim reformer whom the Poverty Center branded “an antiMuslim extremist.” More lawsuits are said to be coming. Many Americans are angered, hurt and seething about the great divide in America, but few are trying to monetize their pain. “It’s like our country is becoming the ‘Hunger Games,’” says Elisa Karem Parker of Louisville, Ky. She thinks the weekend of remarkable violence, particularly at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, could be the spasm of partisan political violence that is the moment when the nation considers how poisonous the culture has become, and becomes the moment the partisan public turns the other way. “If this isn’t it, I’d hate to think about what it would take.”
The tribalism now ingrained in American life will eventually subside, says Robb Willer, a professor at Stanford who studies such phenomena, tells the Associated Press, but not until the public says it has had enough and tells the media and the politicians that it will no longer reward those who use incendiary language and demonize the other side.
We’ve all seen the damage, collateral and otherwise. Long-cherished friendships between Democrats and Republicans have been broken, romance between party partisans has become difficult, and Professor Willer thinks the vitriol has soaked the ground for violence.
Now we’re fighting over who’s responsible. Democrats naturally blame Donald Trump and the Republicans, citing the president’s scorn for his foes, his harsh language on the stump. For their part, Republicans and other conservatives cite the Democratic scorn for the 2016 election returns, their inability to accept defeat as others have done. Barack Obama’s bitter campaign rhetoric of recent days may relieve his frustration and watching the new president’s success with the economy, releasing the regulatory stranglehold on business initiative, and his fashioning a new U.S. Supreme Court and other good things the Democrats said could never happen under a Trump administration. But it doesn’t contribute to a new civility.
Civility is a good thing. Angry arguments rarely make anyone feel good. But the only thing that would make civility and peace and descend on the land would be by one side surrendering to the other. That’s not going to happen, nor should it. Anyone who imagines that’s the good old American way doesn’t know much about the history of our politics.
This, too, shall pass. It always has. But it wouldn’t hurt to turn down the noise, and even occasionally shut up.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.