In a speech earlier this month, Joe Biden talked about civility and lowering the temperature of the national discourse. “It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, to lower the temperature, to see each other again, to listen to each other again, to make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy,” he said. He added, “We are not enemies. We are Americans.”
Some Democrats seem surprised that Republicans aren’t convinced he means it but it’s really not hard to imagine why. If you look around there are plenty of Biden voters who are already urging him to drop the civility and fight. About a week ago the Guardian published this piece by a Princeton professor named Jan-Werner Mueller. It’s titled “End the odes to political ‘civility’. Do you really think Republicans will reciprocate?” After acknowledging Biden’s statements about civility Mueller then quickly shifts to suggesting the problem isn’t partisanship but disrespect:
Fierce partisanship is not in itself a symptom of politics gone wrong. On the contrary: we would not need democracy if we did not have deep disagreements and divisions – which are inevitable, as long as we live in a free society. The problem arises when disagreement translates into disrespect. Disrespect doesn’t mean just being impolite; it means denying the standing of particular citizens – and, as a logical next step, actively trying to disenfranchise people. Republicans have been working towards a situation in which a combination of voter suppression and what the philosopher Kate Manne has called “trickle-down aggression” – acts of private political intimidation tacitly endorsed by Trump – shrinks the political power and relevance of many Americans in a way favorable to the interests of the Republican party.
We had the highest turnout ever this year. Disenfranchisement clearly didn’t determine the outcome. If you follow that second link you’ll see it’s a piece from 2016 which is largely about abortion politics. Specifically, the piece argues that pro-life politics are really just a form of misogyny. A way to punish women. And already I think you can see why Mueller’s argument is really an argument against civility.
If being pro-life counts as disrespect, as beyond the pale, then clearly we must all be pro-choice in order to have any hope of getting along. And the unspoken corollary of this idea is that if some people refuse to be pro-choice then they are refusing to get along and don’t deserve any respect in turn. In fact, that’s the point of an opinion piece published today by NBC News. It’s titled “Trump, Covid-19 and racism taught me to stop being nice and embrace my rage.” In the piece, the author describes how a silent protest against abortion caused her to fly into a rage and scream at a nun:
One Tuesday last month, as I ran up the main drag of my small suburb of Cincinnati, I passed a scene that lit hot fury in me: Several hundred small white crosses sat in the yard of the big Catholic church on the corner with a sign saying they represented abortions performed in the United States.
Every year, these crosses appear the first Sunday in October for what U.S. Catholics call “Respect Life Week,” and every year, I am appalled by the display…
“Sister!” I shouted at the nun who happened to be crossing the street as I ran by…
“This is shameful!” I threw my hands toward the crosses.
“Where are the crosses for the 220,000 dead from the coronavirus, while Trump — who I know this church supports — does nothing?” I continued. “Where are the crosses for Black people lynched by police? For the children who died at the border and for the parents and kids separated?”
You get the idea. If the church and everyone else would just agree with progressives about every hot-button issues, the left wouldn’t find it necessary to scream at strangers. This is, ironically, the excuse of the abusive husband who blames his wife for his own violent and abusive behavior: Do you see what you made me do?!
So, after shouting at the nun for a while, the author eventually calms down and during a chance meeting later she apologizes. Nevertheless, the point of the piece is clearly that it’s right to embrace that rage and to try to direct it more often at the people who deserve it. Rage is good when people refuse to agree with you. When they offend you with their differing opinions. Tying this back to the Guardian piece, rage is good when people show disrespect.
What’s striking is that the people making these arguments never seem to realize that there is a tremendous amount of disrespect constantly emanating from the left. Recently the mayor of Longmont, Colorado suggested that hospitals in his city should consider refusing to take patients from a neighboring county that had voted to refuse to act on the Governor’s shut down orders. In essence, he was suggesting that if some businesses refused to shutter, anyone who got sick should be allowed to go without treatment and possibly die for their sin of disobeying the government. That’s disrespect.
The mayor eventually walked that back saying he had succeeded in bringing light to the issue. But a liberal citizen wrote to a local paper warning about the danger of the mayor’s smug attitude:
Clouds of smug, like the one emanating from Longmont’s mayor, pose as great a threat to our well-being as the coronavirus and global warming, because they keep us from actually talking to each other in a civil way.
Liberal though I am, I well understand the anger of so many of my red-voting neighbors. They have felt discounted and condescended to by the progressive elites.
I sincerely hope that Mayor Bagley is not speaking for most of the citizens of his city and county when he expressed such disdain for his Weld County neighbors.
In a column published today, Ben Shapiro pointed out how the left seems eager to return to an era of smug superiority where the left and the media work hand in hand:
The media suggested we needed to return to the old “normal” — by which they meant a system in which the media and Democrats worked hand-in-glove together to lie to the American public about the content of policy (“If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor!” — former President Barack Obama); in which conventional wisdom was treated as gospel truth, no matter how wrong it was (“There will be no advanced and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process” — John Kerry on Israel); and in which cozy relationships between corporations and government were considered de rigueur.
They meant a system in which all difficult political questions were put off for another day; in which scandals were brushed off without a second thought; in which even anti-journalistic efforts by Democrats were dismissed as out of hand. It was a system in which constitutional boundaries were routinely overridden in the name of left-wing policy priorities; in which nasty rhetoric by Democrats was written off as a natural byproduct of the right’s innate evil; in which alternative news sources were treated as conspiracy outlets.
That’s the “normal” the media and Democrats wanted.
Again, the people on the left counseling Biden and Democrats to be less civil seem to think their lack of civility is well justified. It never seems to occur to them that people on the right feel the same way and with good reason. Instead, many of them reduce the right to a bunch of cartoon villains whose main problem is that they fail to show the left enough respect. I guess that’s easier than dealing with the genuine differences of opinion on issues like abortion, defunding the police, immigration policy and, yes, how to deal with COVID-19 without destroying the economy. These aren’t settled issues and the left’s smug condescension toward the right won’t make them any more settled in the next four years.