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writing for godot

Response to Kareem: In times of trouble, Democracy doesn't have to be polite

Written by Carl Peterson   
Friday, 06 July 2018 10:45


Response to Kareem: In times of trouble, Democracy doesn't have to be polite

Kareem, I read with interest your recent article, Trump's Opponents Have the Moral High-Ground. Let's Not Squander It. However, I must say that I doubt the analysis presented in your article.

You claim in your article that you are not making a plea for civility, but I read and re-read your article several times, and if that is not exactly what you are pleading for, then you are pleading for something very much like it. You cite Sarah Sanders being asked to leave a restaurant; Rudy Giuliani being booed at a Yankees game; Florida's attorney general being confronted by protestors after leaving a movie; Kirstjen Nielsen being heckled while dining at a restaurant as examples of "not the best way to achieve the goal of national reform and reclaim our hope for America."  What these examples all seem to have in common is what some people would call incivility.

At one point you acknowledge that, "The country’s leadership has proven itself so arrogant and immune from reason, compassion, and democratic principles that we are way past civility and decorum."  It appears that you mean to say that you are not pleading for civility per se, that is, as a value in itself, but you are asking for the Trump opposition to maintain civility in the interest of a higher goal.  You say, "Our raised voices must do more than release our frustrations – they have to join a growing chorus that effects change."

You clarify later in the article that you believe that "personal attacks" presumably such as those cited in your examples, will squander the anti-Trump "media-moral high ground" [defined by you as the side the public sees as more moral than the opposition] by making the Trump opposition seem "petty."

But Kareem, do you really expect a crowd at Yankee Stadium to check the spontaneous, naturally shared impulse to boo Rudy Giuliani--just because they should know that booing him might sacrifice the Trump opposition's media-moral high-ground?  Do you think that politely asking Sarah Sanders to leave your restaurant should be forestalled by an awareness that the media-moral high-ground might be yielded if you did so?  Should American citizens non-violently protesting government officials like Kirstjen Nielsen and Pam Bondi have resisted that impulse because such actions might look bad in media reports and cause ownership of the media-moral high ground to shift to Trump?

You say, "We can’t let the media discussion become about civility or manners or diners’ rights. We must focus on the policies and the damage they are doing to our country, our rights, and our future."

However, I believe we can, as others have said, "chew bubble gum and walk at the same time" and balance a book on our head and dribble a basketball while we're at it if we have to.  These protests against the person, which is what in my opinion they are, are also messages that are not unrelated to the "damage [being done] to our country, our rights, and our future."  These are personal protests expressing real hurt to parties deemed to be at least complicit in causing the hurt.  These protests mean that people like Rudy Giuliani, Sara Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen and Pam Bondi are being held personally responsible for the aid they are giving to forces on the wrong side of a national struggle that as you say has "fate-of-the-world type stakes."  And why are personal protests of this sort becoming more common now?  It may be because people on our side of the divide understand that this has gone beyond the pale.  Our government's business is no longer conducted as usual.  It is not being conducted as the people's business.  It is being conducted as a self-devouring assault on the American Way.  People on our side understand this intuitively, and believe that those who are enabling the destruction of America as we have known it, are personally responsible for their actions, as quislings are responsible for their actions.  This is not business as usual.  It is not according to longstanding historical agreements among Americans.  Once upon a time no one would have thought to protest a presidential press secretary for what she said in her official capacity.  But now, people take it personally, and they hold the presidential press secretary personally responsible for her official statements because they believe that she is acting beyond the pale, and counter to the interests of an America that has endured for almost 250 years.

I admit that a perspective like yours did not immediately occur to me upon learning of these events right after they happened.  When I heard about the booing of Rudy Giuliani I thought, Democracy in action! And a very personal, lovely kind of democracy--at a baseball game--sweet!  The boos said: "From us to you Rudy.  We don't approve of what you've been doing publicly.  We approved of you once, maybe we could again.  But you need to get right with your fellow Americans."  I think Rudy got that message.  What he'll make of it I don't know, but I doubt that even he responded within himself:  "How petty they are!"

A solid 40% of the population does not see that the Trump opposition has the media-moral high ground; many of these 40% see that those who oppose Trump already occupy the moral low-ground, and regardless of the evidence, that's just the way they're going to see it, until for reasons we may never discover or understand they no longer see it that way.  So if you are worried about what you believe to be the media-moral high ground you probably are not thinking many minds in the 40% are going to be changed.  And you probably are not thinking that those solidly in the Trump opposition are going to change their minds and grant Trump the moral high ground because of these minor political protests, so I assume that you are thinking of a percentage of so-called "independent" voters large enough to cause the media-moral high ground to shift.  So this is about that small percentage of Americans who might move to the Trump camp because of this direct form of political protest that some deem "petty," or "impolite," or "uncivil," or "personal attacks."

You are concerned that the Trump opposition could lose its media-moral high-ground because of these relatively minor confrontations, but if this is a legitimate concern for the Trump opposition, shouldn't Trump and his enablers on the other hand have much greater worries about the moral implications of their 1.5 trillion dollar tax heist for the wealthy; their attempts to destroy healthcare for millions of Americans; their kidnapping of children from their parents and spiriting them off to unknown locations; their relentless harmful environmental and other deregulation; their intensified swampification; their graft; their grifting; their emoluments; etc. etc.  If, under these conditions the media-moral high ground could be lost to Trump, then our problem is already far too serious to worry that booing Rudy Giuliani is inappropriate and counterproductive.

Kareem, I'm concerned that you have internalized the other side's perspective and that they have got you thinking the way they want you to think:  That's a decades-old problem for Democrats that, according to my memory, began in the Reagan years:  Since then, Democrats have too often believed that they must tiptoe carefully if they want to retain moral approval.  Democrats have too often believed that to act boldly is to act unwisely.  Democrats have too often believed that they must focus on intermediate goals, for example, media-moral approval, even at the cost of losing sight of what should be their ultimate goals.  Democrats too often hold themselves responsible for public perceptions, even grossly mistaken public perceptions.  I see that as being voluntarily fitted for a strait-jacket--and putting it on yourself--saying:  "I must do this to win, because tailoring one's actions to what is said to be public opinion is the first order of business.  I cannot act from the heart or speak from the heart because I might offend some of those whose favorable opinions I need.  I can please myself later."  But, for Democrats, later never seems to come.

Your perspective on this issue would be reasonable if our democracy were functioning the way it used to and if there were not a major power grab going on right before our eyes, but now is not the time to be afraid to spontaneously boo Rudy Giuliani or kick Sarah Sanders out of a restaurant as a form of personal political protest.  There is real communication going on in this kind of protest.  It's mostly one-way communication yes, and it is no doubt a little painful for those being protested.  But sometimes, especially in the circumstances of struggle, where we now find ourselves, effective communication happens through moral pain.  And remember, under an ensconced authoritarian regime, the regime always has the media-moral high ground, at least officially. your social media marketing partner


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0 # RICHARDKANE.Philadelphia 2018-07-08 10:54
I am in Philadelphia zip 19103, my State Rep is Brian Sims the 1st PA Gay State Rep, and in 19103 is Rittenhouse Square once noted for pot smoking, A Republican fund raiser was held just off the square, a huge effort to provoke trouble, I think an effort for sober debates with Libertarian and Green candidates and the few sober Republican candidates still around is important,

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.