Civil Discourse

A house one street over from ours had a campaign sign in the front yard all season that read:


I walked past it a few times on early-morning outings with the dog, and it jarred me freshly every time I saw it. I mentioned it to my husband, and we both marveled at it. That’s your election credo? What the hell kind of political stance is that? I wanted, very much, to believe it was a joke. 

It isn’t a joke, of course. Even if the sign’s owner meant it that way. (I doubt they did.) 

A woman I know posted on Facebook a few days before the election. “I don’t care how you vote,” her post said. “I just care how you treat the people who vote differently from you.”

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? How you vote is how you treat the people who vote differently. Your vote isn’t an abstract exercise, a Twitter poll, a thought experiment. You are voting for the direction of a nation that contains all of us, even the people who don’t think like you. The people who don’t look like you, who don’t love like you, who don’t worship the way you do. You are voting for the welfare of all of those people.

Or against it, if you like. Maybe you’re just voting to make them cry.

To say a thing like that — I don’t care how you vote, I just care how you treat the people who vote differently — is to expose an outrageous privilege, an incredible sense of entitlement. What you are saying is, “Even if I vote against your right to marry, your right to adopt children or to plan a family on your own terms, your right to health care, your right to due process, your right to speech or faith, your right to your own body, your right to the pursuit of happiness, you still have to be nice to me.”

Because the thing is, if you believe in treating other people well, you vote that way. My vote is an active and considered effort to treat other people better. All people, even the ones who disagree with me. I think we’re all entitled to health care. To social safety nets in times of need. To housing and living wages. To education. To work. To control of our bodies. To love and family. To the rights ostensibly granted us in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I want those things for you regardless of your race, your faith, your gender, your sexuality, or your political views.

The other side wants to make me cry. 

Also on Facebook, a commenter on a friend’s post offered another smug refrain: “You don’t win people over by calling them racist or sexist.”

What’s the proposed alternative? To let racism and sexism go unchallenged? 

Well, yes. Fundamentally, that’s exactly what that commenter wants, and what the nice white suburban ladies pleading for “civility” and “kindness” want. To not have to examine their views. To not have to change their minds. To not have to reflect on their words or deeds, on their impact on others. To not be made uncomfortable

Civility politics are the politics of entitlement, of entrenchment, of the status quo. They’re the politics of people who like what they’ve got, aren’t interested in what anyone else hasn’t got (or fear having to share, the horror! as though equality and justice and a better standard of living are finite, a pie to be divvied in ever-smaller-slices among the teeming electorate), and don’t like the idea of having to examine their attitudes or principles or privileges for their broader impacts.

A lot of these people are so-called “single issue” voters. Usually when we refer to “single-issue” voters, we mean the anti-choice bloc. These voters are longtime veterans of this kind of fingers-in-ears, la-la-la, don’t-make-me-consider-the-broader-world-and-my-impact-on-it thinking. 

“I’m voting for the unborn babies,” said a commenter on the New York Times website. Setting aside the fact that unborn babies aren’t eligible to run for office anywhere (ha, ha), what then? You’re voting for them to be born … and then what? You’re not voting for them to have a safe and loving home, to have a good education, for them to live. Just to be born.

You’re not voting for the babies the administration tore from their families and kept in cages without access to basic healthcare during a pandemic. You’re not voting for refugee babies or asylum-seeking babies or babies who grow into children who have to practice active shooter drills in school because you’re not willing to vote for responsible gun control measures: just birth. You’re not voting for prenatal care or maternal mental health care or paid family leave or child care and living wages for working families: just birth. You are no longer interested in babies once they’ve been expelled from the womb; it’s just, for some reason, singularly important to you that they be expelled, after which point you have no further interest in or obligation to them, smug in your assurance that you have done the righteous thing, that no more can be asked of you. You’re a good person. People who question you on that, who vote to demand protections and resources for babies after birth — well, how dare they? You’ve done your part.

There’s a new kind of single issue voter I’m seeing among local acquaintances, though, and these are “Back the Blue” voters.

Let’s set aside the fact that there’s no such thing as a Blue Life, because nobody is born a police officer. Let’s set aside the outraged and completely false statistics the Blue Lives Matter crowd shrieks about. (Being a police officer is not the most dangerous job in America: it doesn’t even crack the top ten. Being a logger is the most dangerous job in America. Being a garbage worker is three times more dangerous than being a cop.) Let’s just think about the fact that, whenever we hear of a Breonna Taylor or a George Floyd, whenever we hear the story of an egregious miscarriage of justice, an outrageous failure to “protect and serve,” a glaring and documented case of brutality, what we don’t hear is condemnation of those officers or departments or actions by other police officers. Instead we start seeing thin blue line flags and BLUE LIVES MATTER signs.

If you, as a police officer or police officer’s wife/mother/relative/friend, aren’t willing to label bad behavior and injustice when you see it, if your first instinct is to slap a blue banner on your profile picture and tut-tut about “rioters,” if you’re incensed about damage to property but silent on extrajudicial murder, then you don’t get to be shocked or hurt when other people respond with protests and marches and, yes, even #ACAB. Just because your first and only or overriding interest is defending you and yours, that doesn’t mean everyone else sees it that way. The fact that you don’t want to grapple with questions about accountability and injustice doesn’t mean other people won’t ask those questions, or that they shouldn’t ask those questions. The fact that you don’t want to examine your own actions, or the actions of those close to you or aligned with you, doesn’t mean other people can’t or won’t. And it doesn’t make them rude.

In 2016, Trump’s fanbase loudly declared FUCK YOUR FEELINGS. In 2020, they declare MAKE LIBERALS CRY AGAIN. But it is the liberals, the left, the people who believe that the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the modern world can afford to care better for its citizens, should respect the rights its founding documents guarantee, who aspire to broaden privilege and freedom and curb inhumanity and cruelty, who are scolded for incivility. For asking other people to think, to examine, to consider their entrenchments and investments and their wider social contexts. For making comfortable people uncomfortable. The same people who gloat about running a presidential candidate — a former Vice President! — out of their state turn into absolute tantruming infants at the suggestion they might be, you know, deplorable. 

Why are liberals so rude? Why don’t they cry more?

Being asked to examine or reflect on your own views or privileges or positions isn’t intolerance, not even if you’re asked impolitely. Being asked to consider the welfare of others isn’t socialism, it’s basic kindergarten courtesy. Voting to make someone else cry isn’t a political position, it’s the attitude of the amoral, the unprincipled, and the schoolyard bully. And voting against your neighbors’ rights and welfare and then demanding said neighbors be nice to you anyway isn’t civility: it’s a pretty fuckin’ extraordinary feat of disrespect. 

So no, I’m not gonna cry, no matter how the count comes out. But also no, I’m not gonna be “nice” about it, either. I was nice where it counted: with my vote. To your plea for civility now, I say: Get fucked, Trumpleton.

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