To Be Civil…

Or Not To Be?

This week, thanks to several restaurant incidents in which prominent Republicans were harassed or denied dinner, the notion of “civility” in public discourse has become a major topic in the national conversation.

At American Public Square, civility is key to what we do—provide forums for fact-based, civil conversations between non-like-minded people—so of course our ears are ringing.

Journalists, pundits, and citizens are asking questions: Are there situations where being civil isn’t the best course? Is it ok to be uncivil sometimes, for example, as a form of nonviolent protest? What’s the difference between restaurant employees kicking Sarah Huckabee out of their establishment and President Trump describing a Congressperson as “an extraordinarily low IQ” person? Should Democrats praise or condemn those who act uncivilly toward politicians they disagree with?

On the whole, the Right seems to be concerned that these acts of incivility will lead to a larger violence. And the Left labels the Right’s calls for civility blatant hypocrisy and an attempt to squash free speech.

Here are just a few articles from varying points of view that may help us fine-tune our notions of what civility means. Also check out PBS News Hour’s debate on civility, embedded below the articles.

Without civil society, there's no civility

Timothy P. Carney says these recent displays of incivility have a deeper cause: disenfranchisement. And the “chief force of disenfranchisement in America today is the erosion of civil society and local community.”

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Targeting Trump aides: The politics of rage is out of control

“Too many people are justifying bad behavior by decrying the actions of the Trump administration—and many of them would cry foul if the folks on their side received the same mistreatment.”

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Days of Rage

“Protest all you want, but the moment you turn vicious is the moment you turn dangerous. When you start to tear at the fabric of American political life, you won’t be able to control — and may not like — the forces you unleash in response.”

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Let the Trump team eat in peace

The Editorial board said Huckabee (and Nielsen and Miller) “should be allowed to eat dinner in peace.” The Post also published a piece by Philip Bump arguing that the current debate over civility is moot because incivility has been a tool for Trump for a long time. And it’s working.

Civility Is Important in a Democracy. So Is Dissent.

The media shouldn’t be afraid to criticize both sides equally….but…”In these times, however, it’s a joke to focus on incivility by Democrats even as the Republican president routinely says things that are as bad as or worse than the attacks of the most irresponsible Democratic no-name precinct chair.”

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Sarah Sanders Reportedly To Get Temporary Secret Service Protection

NPR reports on the widespread harassment Huckabee has been subject to since the incident (and before) and notes that she may be receiving temporary Secret Service Protection. It also points out that some in the Twittersphere find hypocrisy in the Trump administration’s “praising a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a Colorado baker’s right to deny service to a same-sex couple. They say denying Sanders service because of her political beliefs is no different.”

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The Red Hen Affair: Demands for 'civility' are almost always aimed at shutting down free speech

“’Civility’ is the biggest weasel word of all, commonly invoked by those promoting the most uncivil viewpoints and policies.”

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Against ‘Civility’

“Most of the civility talk isn’t about any real red line, any boundary that is critical to the kind of free society we want to preserve and build. It’s more a wet blanket meant to tsk tsk legitimate protest and legitimate resistance to corrupt government, misrule and injustice.”

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Sarah Sanders and the failure of “civility”

“The United States is in the middle of a particular type of political emergency: the failure of American civil discourse as a democratic practice. A little impoliteness, of the right kind, might help to restore it.”

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*background image: Daniel Lin/AP