As President Trump keeps winning the angry left gets even angrier. Attacks in Portland Saturday by the thuggish Antifa on the group Patriot Prayer are a case in point. And these days even the notion of basic civility is under siege.
The war on civility arose from the Red Hen incident against White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, plus a spate of other examples of leftist activism targeting Trump administration officials (usually women), and a series of vulgar verbal attacks by celebrities like Robert De Niro. The debate over civility went into high gear when Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) made a speech praising activists who were harassing Republicans, and called for even more confrontations. "If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd,” she said. “You push back on them. Tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere!"
But mainstream liberals quickly realized that this was simply bad politics. Calls for direct action against Trump administration officials would likely mobilize far more voters against the Democrats than for them, especially if there were more embarrassing public scenes caught on tape. The House and Senate minority leaders, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), both came out against these confrontation tactics, urging Democrats to focus instead on the issues. Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also asked his followers to remain calm. And the Washington Post editorial board called for Trump officials to be allowed to “dine in peace.”
This exposed a significant rift between the old school liberals and the hard-line progressives. One Twitter user complained that the Democratic leaders “just did the RepubliKKKans a huge favor and threw Maxine Waters under the bus.” Another said that saying their “white supremacy is showing.” A disappointed Bernie Sanders supporter said his appeal for civility meant “Thas a wrap for me and Bernie.”
But not all Democratic leaders are in the doghouse. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee, defended Maxine Waters’ call for “peaceful protest.” Of course earlier this year he Tweeted out a photo of himself holding the Antifa handbook, which the Portland branch reminded us is not a group known for its love of decorum.
The temper among progressives skews decidedly to the angry and potentially violent. Twitter user Kayleigh-Marie Tweeted out a widely circulated message with a gif of a woman aiming a revolver and the note, “I am fucking sick of trump and his minions. Can someone just assassinate him already?!?!?!” Comedy Central writer Curtis Cook saying he wished retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy “had been shot instead of the other ones.” And Ashley Nicole Black, a writer for Samantha Bee (who recently was forced to apologize for a vulgar attack on Ivanka Trump), Tweeted out her view that “Civility is a tool of white supremacy. Ok, cool. Byeeeeee!”
The word civility derives from the Latin civis, meaning citizen. It means practicing civic virtue. Civility is the basic quality that makes a society successful. As the word implies, it is the root of civilization.
Yet today many progressives simply reject civility as a positive norm. Twitter posts using the #CivilityMyAss hashtag reveal a lot about how progressives are feeling these days. “Civility went out the door long ago,” Stephanie Resists wrote. “It’s about to get ugly. Best get on down the@road if’n ya can’t hang cause were coming. #TheResistance #Collusion #fucktrump”
Civility critic Vann R. Newkirk II writes in the Atlantic that it is “more a reflection of majority-enforced social norms than of a proven set of rules for effective debate.” He invokes Martin Luther King saying in 1968, “a riot if the language of the unheard” and that “large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” Yet today large segments of society in general are concerned about the possibility that progressives are going to translate their angry words into action. A recent survey showed 59% “concerned that those opposed to President Trump’s policies will resort to violence,” and a third are “very concerned.” A riot may be the “language of the unheard,” but riots rarely have positive outcomes. And if progressives think taking it to the streets is going to usher in their brave new world, they are in for a surprise.
James S. Robbins is editor of Eagle Action Report and author of Erasing America: Losing Our Future by Destroying Our Past (Regnery, 2018).
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