Trump’s America: Declining civility

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders (left) and Kirstjen Nielsen, seen here at a White House press briefing, have both been the targets of progressive protests. (photo courtesy of the White House)

Angry confrontations with Trump administration officials and their Republican allies in response to the “zero-tolerance” family separation policy have seemed to explode in the past couple weeks. Not just the moms in New York City who clogged the hallways of an ICE office, but protesters disrupting Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s dinner and prompting her to flee a Washington DC restaurant. And the proprietors of a Lexington, Va. restaurant denied Sarah Huckabee Sanders a farm-to-fork meal last week, causing uproar in the GOP camp about the notion of civility.

It feels like we’re at an inflection point.

The old truism is that violence begins where language ends.

“When you’re violent and cursing and screaming and blocking me from walking into a movie, there’s something wrong,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Trump ally who was confronted by progressive activists while entering a theater to view the Mister Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? In Tampa on June 22. “The next people are going to come with guns. That’s what’s going to happen.” Bondi and other Republicans view the agitation on the left with some measure of satisfaction, predicting that it will prompt a backlash from the silent majority that will bear electoral fruit in November.

The activists who harassed Bondi said they escalated their tactics because she had refused to meet with them.

The flipside of the argument for civility is that when the administration is inflicting harm, as with a policy that separates children from parents at a critical stage of development, discomfort and public shaming is an appropriate consequence.

There’s a view that says that disruptive confrontation is not only righteous, but also tactically effective. When the country seems to be moving inexorably towards irreconcilable conflict, perhaps aggressive confrontation might serve as an inoculation against more severe violence.

“By confronting collaborators now, in ways that involve the lowest levels of physical resistance, we may be able to stunt or block the growth of the Trumpist cancer inside our remaining institutions,” Chris Ladd writes at the website Political Orphans. “All our civilized instincts toward civility and national unity are being used against us now. Resist that. No one should feel safe expressing support for this regime in public. Smart exercise in resistance or even low-level violence forces a cleaving, placing decision-makers, authorities and even bystanders in a position from which they can’t escape a clear, consequential moral choice.”

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