My most read piece this week was When Civility is Violence, where I discussed the fallout from the Red Hen/Sarah Sanders confrontation.
Here’s an interesting exchange that took place in the comments.
Edd Jennings wrote:
How far are you willing to go with this? I’m an aging Southern farmer. Demographics from my county suggest that there’s an 80% chance I supported Donald Trump. Would you suggest a business owner refuse me service until I could demonstrate I was a loyal liberal?
When I was very young, you, as a black woman, would have been refused service in restaurants, forced to ride in the back of buses, and wouldn’t have been allowed to drink from a white water fountain.
Is it acceptable to go back to that if we hate someone enough and can muster the raw political power?
I’m sure you tell the truth as you see it. Has it ever occurred to you that your political polar opposite might do the same?
To which, Ellie P. responded
The argument I’ve heard (and agree with) is that this isn’t about political purity tests- it’s about standing up to the political ruling class. These are public figures, and normal rules don’t really apply anymore.
It’s a nuanced thing, but denying individuals based on their immutable traits (gender, race, religion) is a different scenario compared to denying someone on the basis of their publicly held positions. It does make me uneasy to imagine the reverse happen- say, a Democrat being declined by a business owner who disagreed with them- but apparently it’s happened before, without nearly this amount of hubbub. This also isn’t the sort of action that causes any permanent harm. SHS was able to go to another restaurant without issues. So I’m inclined to believe that if you care about politics enough to know who’s who, as well as hold a strong enough moral opposition to their actions as to act in this way, that it’s not out of line to deny them service.
It’s a bit ironic, but I actually consider this to be a civil form of protest. No violence was involved, no yelling, no pushing or shoving. Someone was asked to leave a restaurant, and they did.
And Edd came back with:
Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Ellie. The issue is complex enough that a similar case where a Colorado bakery who refused to decorate a cake for a gay couple went to the Supreme Court.
I’m not sure that I can accept that normal rules don’t apply to people in the public eye. They should have the same rights and responsibilities as all of us.
You’re right in that no permanent harm came out of this case and that may be the deciding factor. The slide into incivility is my biggest concern, and there’s a big gap between what a person has a right to do and what amounts to good judgment.
I don’t see this sort of thing becoming a national trend. The wounds of judging people as a class are still too raw and real. When my father served in the Navy in World War II in Seattle he saw signs that said, “Dogs and sailors, stay off the grass.”
The biggest check on this kind of exclusiveness is the difficulty of the small business atmosphere. It’s tough. Small businesses fight to stay afloat and few can afford to turn away paying customers.
Most important, our democracy holds together not by the power of the majority, but by our willingness to respect the rights and the basic humanity of the people who disagree with us.
Vote out those who disagree with you — if you can, but don’t go out of your way to find opportunities to offer them any insult you can.
While I was glad to see this exchange, I want to emphasize that what is happening in America isn’t politics as usual. And I think this type of discussion, while good to have, is skirting around the point I really want people to start grappling with: the words “fascist” and “White nationalist” aren’t just being thrown around for style points. I know that cable TV and social media have trained us all to communicate in hyperbole, but that’s not what this is.
Something has shifted in America, and it is sinister and dark.
The American government is detaining people in large numbers and building camps for them. Children have been separated from their parents and shipped all over the country. No one is saying where the older girls are. Official government statements are calling these people an “infestation.” These are the precursors to genocide. Don’t let anyone convince you that it can’t happen in America, especially when it has before.
Please, please try to recognize the difference between a request for civility being about neighborliness and it being a demand for deference to authority. Please engage in the self-reflection required to determine if you really care that much about politeness or if you’ve been conditioned to bow your head, and saying you’re being “civil” makes you feel better about it. Sometimes the boat has to be rocked. This is one of those times.
I understand why so many Americans want to focus on everyone getting along — it’s a nicer sentiment than facing what is happening in their country. They don’t want to look at it. They don’t want to think about it. Fascism is a scary word. But it’s a word that has a meaning, a meaning that can be applied to describe certain socio-political circumstances.
Because cultural identity underpins it, fascism looks a bit different everywhere it arises. Nevertheless, consider The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, and think about how many of them apply to the Trump administration:
- Powerful and Continuing Nationalism — Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
- Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights — Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
- Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause — The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
- Supremacy of the Military — Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
- Rampant Sexism — The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
- Controlled Mass Media — Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
- Obsession with National Security — Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
- Religion and Government are Intertwined — Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
- Corporate Power is Protected — The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
- Labor Power is Suppressed — Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
- Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts — Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
- Obsession with Crime and Punishment — Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
- Rampant Cronyism and Corruption — Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
- Fraudulent Elections — Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.
One of the reasons I write about Colin Kaepernick so much is because nationalism is number 1 for a reason. If you can get that to really stick, you can make everything else fall into place. Colin Kaepernick is being punished for saying no to participating in nationalistic displays that are almost always linked to militarism (number 4). In addition, what he was protesting against is the ignoring of systemic and widespread human rights violations (number 2) against a racial group that has been historically scapegoated (number 3) in service to an obsession with crime and punishment (number 12). Helping him is helping to push back against all this.
Framing the points on that list as simply “polite disagreement” or run-of-the-mill “political differences” is what allowed them to linger long enough to coalesce. The only one most people know is bad is fraudulent elections (but even then, most don’t see widespread, racially-targeted voter suppression as an issue, so maybe I’m being too generous). The other points have been at the heart of the Republican platform for decades, and plenty of Democrats have gleefully gone along for the ride.
Admitting you have a problem is the first step in solving it. I don’t know that enough Americans will in time to stop what’s coming…
I usually try to end on a more upbeat note, but what’s happening with the Supreme Court is going to calcify every point on that list. I gave Justice Kennedy too much credit when I wrote that his resignation was a disinterested “Kanye shrug” in the face of his duty to his country. Given his son’s ties to Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, it looks like there’s much more to it.
Things are going to get a whole lot worse…
If you’re interested in delving deeper into these issues, a good follow on Medium is umair haque.
Check out his description of how several types of social, political and economic failures are happening in America simultaneously.
(Why) American Collapse is Extraordinary
Or, Why America’s Melting Down Faster Than Anyone Believed
My newer followers can also check out my piece, The United States is Collapsing.