We hear a lot about incivility these days, but that word is just too tepid to convey what’s really happening. Civility means politeness, courtesy, deference; it’s opening the door and saying "after you." Incivility is the opposite: rudeness, boorishness, cutting in line.
But today’s incivility – intrusion, confrontation and intimidation – is on a whole new plane.
For months we’ve seen videos of Trump administration officials and notable conservatives – Sarah Sanders, DHS Secretary Nielsen, Sens. Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz and others – in public places with their families, being screamed at, taunted, hounded. We watched angry "protesters" roaming the halls of the Senate chambers during the Kavanaugh hearings, cornering and hectoring Republican Senators.
These are precisely the actions urged by Rep. Maxine Waters: “if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
Think about that for a moment: “not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
Rep. Waters is prone to saying loony things, so her words were not particularly shocking. What is shocking is the deafening silence from the leadership in the Democratic Party. Some in fact are doubling down. Per Hillary Clinton, “civility can start again when the Democrats take the House or the Senate”.
Evidently not. Last Thursday, just two days after the midterms, an angry mob showed up at conservative TV commentator Tucker Carlson’s house, shouting “racist scumbag” and “we know where you sleep” as Carlson’s wife (he was not at home) hid in the pantry, frantically dialing 9-1-1.
The Carlson episode has garnered plenty of attention, with responsible voices on both left and right demanding that this kind of behavior cease. But will it? It seems like it’s picking up steam.
Adam Pyke, a leader of Smash Racism DC, the Antifa group that marched on Carlson’s house, seemed quite pleased with their accomplishment. In his online account, he reveals clear – and very troubling – insights into the minds of those who do such things.
Pyke explained that last Thursday’s incursion was not a mob, just a demonstration by 13 or 14 protesters who congregated outside Carlson’s house for about 10 minutes. (I guess that Mrs. Carlson would probably have just continued with dinner unfazed by the commotion if she’d known that she had only a dozen or so loud angry strangers on her doorstep, after dark, yelling, pounding on the door and promising “we’ll be back – and we won’t tell you when.”)
According to Mr. Pyke, their action was called for because of Carlson’s xenophobia, his white nationalism and his “ideology that’s led to thousands of people dying by the hand of the police, to trans women being murdered in the streets.” The whole point, he says, is to “deliver an emotional counterpunch to bad political actors… to frighten and unsettle them.”
We’re glad that he cleared that up. Tucker Carlson is a talk show host with ideas disagreeable to them; so they descend on his home one night, scream epithets and “frighten and unsettle” his wife and family. Where’s the problem?
The twisted mentality at play here is that one side of our political divide considers the other to be inherently evil and concludes that whatever bad things happen (shootings, pipe bombs, bad hurricanes, whatever) are directly attributable to that evil. Therefore it is perfectly appropriate – civic duty, actually – to intimidate, threaten, harass or do whatever else they choose to oppose the evil.
When taken to task for tolerating such outrageous behavior, the usual Democrat rejoinder is “Trump started it.” And yes, our president’s language is routinely pugnacious and provocative.
But what’s happening today has been brewing for a long time, a direct consequence of the politics of polarization honed to perfection by both sides. It’s hardly unique to Trump; Obama’s mild manner belied his regularly derisive and divisive words. Supporters and media follow suit. It’s politically effective perhaps–but corrosive.
Coincidentally, the assault on Carlson’s home came just one day before the 80th anniversary of the infamous Kristallnacht, the "night of the broken glass." Marauding bands of Nazis, on a mission to rid their country of all Jews assaulted thousands and damaged countless synagogues and Jewish-owned homes, hospitals, shops and cemeteries.
History is a great teacher. Nazi Germany is a chilling example of how a modern society can lose its way with disastrous consequences. We’re not there yet, but fascist tactics by folks who call themselves Antifa (anti-fascist) is a dangerous lurch in that direction.