Talk about “civility” has been all the rage lately; which is something of an ironic joke, seeing as how the subject seems to come up only when someone perceived as “liberal” says or does something that offends the fee-fees of someone who is decidedly not. Apparently, rudeness is OK, nay, expected when it comes from quarters on the Right, but is otherwise untoward behavior, subject to pearl-clutching opprobrium.
Thus the spectacle of our most influential, allegedly liberal news sources reflexively equating actual violence against abortion providers with the act of informing an administration flunky, in very polite language, that she is not welcome in a restaurant. This is, to put it generously, a steaming pile of… false equivalency.
I’ve been observing this “civility” conundrum since I was a teenager. (I graduated from high school in 1965.) One example: I remember reading in Life Magazine that what really disturbed nice (white) middle-Americans about Vietnam War protesters was their use of “four-letter words.” Naively, I had assumed that the specter of useless slaughter and loss of loved ones might be more upsetting.
Another example: In the early 1980s, I attended a “Town Hall” held by our Congresscritter, a self-righteous slime worm… pardon me, Reagan Republican. This guy was a real class act, the kind of stalwart public servant who inevitably gets caught grifting and proceeds to blame his wife.
Anyway, there was much to “town hall” about, such as the incipient and illegal covert war in Central America and the planned evisceration of the social safety net. Serious stuff, so naturally they opened with a prayer. Some blow-dried Talibangelical called for God’s blessing and… wait for it… a “civil discussion” of the issues, thus presuming to represent any passionately rendered oppositional opinions as… what, unholy?
(I can only assume that his prayer was not meant to fall on the ears of the God of the Old Testament, a supremely uncivil deity.)
Look, I was raised to be a decent and polite person and still believe in “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The rest is commentary.” But there are times when certain “others” manifestly do not give a damn, civil or otherwise, about basic decency and are committed to imposing their will regardless of the cost.
In times like these - like now - a variety of responses seems appropriate. Working in the State Dept. has reinforced my belief that civility is essential in creating constructive understanding. But I maintain that there is also a case to be made for letting people who are dedicated to making your life miserable know, with all due respect but in no uncertain terms, that they are free to go fuck themselves.