25 June 2018

The little Red Hen and the decline of liberal civility

A few days ago the White House press secretary was thrown out of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington VA in a rebuke to her employer, the President.  This action was applauded by at least one Democratic congresswoman who encouraged people to "push back" at Trump administration people wherever they may be found in public. Inevitably, the President entered the discussion with an inevitable ad hominem attack on the Representative, an inevitable slander against the "filthy" restaurant, an inevitable misrepresentation of what the Representative said (translating "push back" to "harm") and an unsavory warning to "be careful what you wish for." It was another few days in the strange death of liberal America, a slight but still worrisome escalation of mutual intolerance. I can understand the desire to get in the faces of policy makers or political spokesmen, but I hope no one does it with the hope of changing anyone's minds. Gestures of this sort, probably inspired in part by the Supreme Court's protection of some conscientious objections to same-sex marriage, are most likely to provoke exactly the tit-for-tat response the President hints at, though it will no doubt be described differently, perhaps as "authoritarian intimidation tactics" or something along that line. Whatever you call it, it grows more likely the less we agree to let each other disagree about politics. That agreement is fundamental to political liberalism, but liberal civility appears increasingly unsustainable the more people feel that lives are at stake in political decisions. I've seen traditional liberal civility described as a form of white privilege, the privilege consisting of a presumed immunity to the material consequences of political decisions. The underprivileged and the self-consciously oppressed can no longer afford such civility, it seems, as antifa tactics grow more appealing. Whatever complexion you put on it, the underlying assumption is that politics is how people stay alive; to disagree, as Republicans seem to, is virtually to wish some people dead. This attitude, even more than the bigotry of reactionary whites, is a stumbling block for those well-meaning moderates who hope to re-establish mutual respect in the political sphere. How can you respect someone's opinion when you infer that that someone would rather see you die than compromise his so-called principles? Conversely, how can you respect someone when  they seem to have no principle but "I must live?" Can liberalism endure in such an environment? Liberalism seems perfectly compatible with an "everyone must live" ethos, until people claim philosophical or moral reasons to dissent from that ethos, and other people start to see such dissent as a crime against life. Genuine political liberals and civil libertarians in such conditions look like Rodney King during the L.A. riots asking, "Can't we get along?" Caught between two increasingly irreconcilable forces, they may well end up looking like King before the riots.


hobbyfan said...

I'm sorry, but once again, President Dumbass leads with his mouth and says stupid things.

While I don't condone Sarah Sanders being forced to leave a restaurant just because she works for and supports the Ugly American President, her only crime in this case is guilt by association. Same goes for 2 other people associated with the President who were removed from Washington restaurants.

Trump rode a wave of anger and resentment to the White House. Now, that wave is coming back the other way, and if he thinks he didn't see it coming, it only proves he's delusional.

Lawrence said...

She was judged by the owner of the restaurant not by her gender or the class of people she was, but by the content of her character.

Conservatives can get bent about this little blow up. SHS doxxed the restaurant as to invite vandalism, death threats and harassment. BTW Conservatives have been pulling this crap on Liberal politicians for ages.

Conservatives stump for wholesale discrimination of classes of people under the phony guise of "deeply held belief". But if one of them is subjected to the same treatment just for purely individual reasons, we talk about "liberal civility"?

Give me a break. "Tone policing" is done to restrain the decent and fair minded and let malicious cretinous behavior run amok unchallenged.