When ‘ci­vil­ity’ be­comes all the rage

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

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.

Barack Obama

Wes­ley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.


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