Calls for Civility

Following Trump’s election, Americans cannot deny human rights in order to be polite


Regan Kassing, Staff Writer

This election season has been a divisive one, and now that it has ended, the response of many who supported Trump — as well as a good number of those who did not — has been a call for civility.

Voters have been encouraged to set aside their political views, to not let them interfere with their relationships, to give Donald Trump a chance.

At first these “don’t fight hate with hate” inspired sentiments may seem appealing, especially after the animosity of the past year. But upon closer examination, it becomes clear that these calls for civility from minority groups are inappropriate, ineffective and enabling.
The inappropriateness of these pleas lies in the privilege they reflect. An idea common among upper and middle class white Americans is that political events are merely a topic of discussion, no different from the latest sports game or a new bestseller.

The 2016 election season turned this idea on its head.

Minority groups, feeling threatened by the rise of a leader who encouraged hate speech and crimes against them, began to react with more than just their ballot. They held protests, posted angry messages on social media, ended friendships with those who supported this candidate and outright refused to politely debate whether or not they deserved rights.

To white moderates, this was unforgivably childish, letting politics interfere with one’s personal life.

Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence, for example, called on anti-Trumpers to not “blame” anyone, and to “love [their] neighbor more than [they’ve] ever tried to before — no matter what they believe or who they voted for.”

Martin Luther King Jr. describes this frustrating phenomenon of calls for civility in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He defines the white moderate as one “who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”  

The problem with views like the one presented by Lawrence — that we shouldn’t let politics interfere with our daily lives and interactions — is that for many minority groups, this is not an option.

Donald Trump has called for Muslim registry, as well as a ban on Muslim immigration. Mike Pence has supported federal funding of gay conversion therapy for minors.

If implemented, policies like this will have a direct impact on the lives of Muslim and LGBT Americans. There is no way for these groups, or any of the countless others targeted by the Trump administration, to opt out of the effect these policies will have on them.

These minority groups’ very existence is political. To ask them to keep their politics to themselves is to ask them to submit to their own dehumanization.

Not only is this “polite” approach to Trump’s election inappropriate, it is ineffective. Nowhere is this more visible than in the Hamilton cast’s speech to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence and the subsequent reaction to it. After thanking Pence for attending the show, Brandon P. Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, confided that the cast was concerned Pence did not plan to represent them fairly in his time in office, and that he hoped their diverse musical had helped him understand the importance of representing all kinds of Americans.

The cast of Hamilton, which is made up of men and women of various races, orientations and faiths, could have reacted any number of ways. Instead, they chose to respond with the most politeness they possibly could without ignoring the questions Pence’s vice presidency raises.

Unfortunately, they were not met with a civil response. Early the next morning, President-Elect Donald Trump tweeted that Pence had been “harassed” by the cast of Hamilton. He called their behavior “rude” and demanded an apology. Trump’s supporters echoed this sentiment. #BoycottHamilton started trending on Twitter later that day. User @FiveRights called the speech “not acceptable” and “embarassing.” User @VickyBrush said the cast was “disrespectful” and “OUT OF LINE.” User @tcgong claimed the speech demonstrated “intolerance.” Even Trump’s more well-known supporters joined in, with former Speaker Newt Gingrich condemning the “arrogance and hostility” of the cast.

Incidents like these are not isolated — they are part of a larger problem. No matter how polite, no matter how civil a criticism of a movement determined to rob the people of their rights is, it will be met with outrage because the problem, ultimately, is not its tone, but the existence of any criticism in the first place. Critics can be the politest critics in the world, but in the end they are still critics, and that, to Trump, is unacceptable.

Returning to King’s rumination on white moderates, the civil rights leader concludes that perhaps these purported allies do even more damage than groups like the KKK. It is easy to understand why simply through examination of the way the media has treated Trump and his ilk the past few weeks.

Mother Jones ran a headline calling Richard Spencer, a white supremacist who believes black and Hispanic people are inherently less intelligent than white people, a “dapper white nationalist.” The LA Times dubbed Spencer “the up and coming intellectual voice of the [alt-right] movement.” CNN anchors discussed whether Trump should condemn Spencer’s views under the headline “Alt-Right Founder Questions if Jews are People.”

In attempts to remain moderate, the mainstream media has declared that the inherent dignity of people of color is something that can be considered up for debate.

In the name of respect and civility, they have given traction to a movement based on the denial of inherent human decency itself.

Responding to criticism with “don’t fight hate with hate” is tempting. It is easy to respond to any sort of conflict with condemnation of the conflict itself, because it gives one the moral high ground without requiring changes to one’s society or worldview.

But ultimately, these pleas for politeness serve as nothing more than distractors from the real issues or, even more terrible, excuses for bigotry and racism.

Worse than impoliteness is the denial of human rights, and as Martin Luther King concluded, perhaps worse than that denial is the lack of outrage the denial receives in the first place.