Two Things to Do Between Now and Next November (All the Rest Is Gravy)Roundup
tags: politics, civics
Andrew Meyer is a professor of history at Brooklyn College. He blogs at Madman of Chu.
Between the impeachment hearings, the Democratic primaries, and the accelerating chaos that has marked our domestic and foreign policy since January of 2017, the task of civic engagement can seem hopelessly complex. Whom to support? What to oppose? Can I fail to become part of the problem?
I have good news. For all people of conscience (whatever your political allegiance, but here I will particularly address my fellow Democrats), there are only two essential tasks. Succeed in these two endeavors, and you need not fear failing to have a positive impact, whatever else you may or may not accomplish. They are:
1) Repudiate Violence
This is not a call for civility. All such protests are meaningless now. When the President of the United States tells Representatives of color to "go back where they came from" and the Reverend Franklin Graham sells a children's picture book, Donald Builds the Wall, in which immigrants who have had their children taken from them on our border are allegorically represented as reptilian swamp creatures, our politics have become so obscene that all calls for civility from the right are hypocrisy, while those from the left cannot possibly be received in good faith.
But no amount of verbal or symbolic obscenity justifies physical violence. The distinction is simple: political attacks with words or ideas may be lewd, offensive, even immoral, but they are not "violent." Whatever a political opponent says, writes, or does (short of physically assaulting someone else), his or her person must be treated as sacrosanct. No invasion of someone's personal space as innocuous as a "glitter bombing" should be lauded or deemed acceptable. In politics as in kindergarten rule #1 must be "keep your hands to yourself."
Repudiating violence means abjuring violent rhetoric. Wishing harm on others may not be as bad as inflicting it, but it keeps the wheel of accelerating tension spinning and contributes to the already catastrophic disintegration of public trust. We may wish our political opponents electoral "annihilation," but not physical injury, much less "destruction." Even jokes, for example, wishing that the president suffer a heart attack exacerbate the climate of suspicion. God forbid something should happen to Donald Trump, there will be millions that refuse to accept he suffered anything but foul play.
Again, this is not about politeness or the tender feelings of the president's supporters. It is about the long-term survival of our institutions, and the short term political success of the opposition to Donald Trump and his enablers. Trump is a fundamentally anti-democratic figure. His political chances rise as the coherence and functionality of our institutions deteriorate. That is why he has sowed discord and animosity within the electorate from his first ride down the golden escalator. Trump thrives as democracy sickens, and violence is the death of democracy.
Some might object that an absolute repudiation of violence leaves Democrats vulnerable to Trump supporters who indulge in threats of "civil war." But such threats are just an extension of the kind of trolling that have become the hallmark of Trump's political brand. Certainly no one should feel the least afraid of such bluster. If Trump's supporters really express their love of the Dear Leader by attacking his opponents, we of course must and can defend ourselves.
But that is not Trump's real game. He talks and acts like a bully, but he is a shade more clever than the average schoolyard thug. Trump would like to see violence in the upcoming electoral cycle, as he welcomed it in 2016. But he would be most pleased by violence instigated by Democrats. He is so clearly corrupt and unscrupulous that his best chance is to discredit or morally compromise his opponents. He will thus try to provoke violence on the part of Democrats throughout the next year, and his provocations will become progressively more lurid and obscene as his political desperation grows. If Democrats can refuse the bait, they win. Those who spread and exemplify the message that violence is anathema thus can take pride in having fulfilled their civic duty and acted to save the Republic.
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