Civility isn't Civil

In 1993, XL & Death Before Dishonor released a tragically underrated album - Sodom and America. Deep metal grooves with insightful and sometimes subversive hip-hop lyrics akin to Rage Against the Machine. One line from the song ‘Fatal Blow’ has stayed with me through the years: "I don't give none, but I demand respect." 1993 is also the year I endured the worst harassment at school. My experiences repeatedly proved XL's statement to be true. The biggest bullies on campus demanded everyone show them respect, often violently. Yet they refused to show others any level of respect.

Twenty-five years later, bullies haven’t changed, and ‘Fatal Blow’ sounds prophetic. Those who most often desire respect rarely treat others with courtesy. Those who virulently demand freedom of speech for their own beliefs or political stances tend to support suppression and censorship of other beliefs or political stances. Those who campaigned hardest for fiscal responsibility are also financially irresponsible. Those who most ardently expect transparency in others possess many secrets to hide. We have a President who values loyalty above all other qualities, yet he is loyal to no one except himself. And now those who act uncivilized are asking other people to act more civilly.

All because Sarah Huckabee-Sanders was politely asked to leave a restaurant. Suddenly, there's an outcry for civility. I don't want to discuss whether the Red Hen in Lexington made the correct decision. I don't care if doing so was or wasn't within their rights. My concern is with this concept of civility. Because I do not think it means what they think it means. Either that or civility isn't civil.

It's interesting how the people complaining loudest about a lack of civility were the same individuals who once wore t-shits with vulgar names to describe Hilary Clinton and joined the crowd shouting "LOCK HER UP." These are the people who cheered when Trump offered to pay the legal fees of any supporter who beat up a protester. When Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, these people dismissed it as "locker room talk."

Now, according to these moral police, the Red Hen in Lexington needs a lesson in civility. So far, this is how these lessons have been presented:
  • By waving a confederate flag in front of Red Hen.
  • Throwing piles of animal feces toward the Red Hen while shouting "Make America Great Again."
  • Writing zero-star reviews on Yelp to lower their average score.
  • Writing zero-star reviews on Yelp for other Red Hen restaurants, even though those other establishments are not affiliated with the location in Lexington.
  • Sending death threats to the Red Hen both in Lexington and other locations.
Let's be clear, if you must send death threats to those you perceive as offensive, you've already lost the argument.

photo courtesy of Washington Post

Maybe this is you. Perhaps you're concerned about a senior member of Trump's team being asked to forfeit her accommodations because of who she is and where she works. It's possible you might be thinking this flap at Red Hen highlights how much the civility of public discourse has eroded. If that is you, if you're now asking our society to become more polite and civilized, allow me to ask you a few questions.

Where were your calls for civility when Trump mocked a disabled reporter?
Where were your calls for civility when Trump called NFL players sons of bitches?
Where were your calls for civility when multiple women came forward with credible allegations they had been sexually harassed or assaulted by Trump?
Where were your calls for civility every time Trump insulted a political opponent?
Where were your calls for civility when Trump said the press was the "enemy of the American people" or when Secretary Sanders accused the press of intentionally deceiving American citizens?
Where were your calls for civility when neo-Nazis and white nationalists started marching in the streets with tiki torches? Or when one of those racists ran over and killed a protester? Or when Trump said some of those white supremacists were very fine people?
Where were your calls for civility when Trump used the term "shit holes" to describe a group of mostly African nations?
Where were your calls for civility when Trump backed a senate candidate who was facing several accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct with girls as young as 14?
Where were your calls for civility when you found out Trump's lawyer paid off a porn star to silence her claims of an affair?
Where were your calls for civility when Sarah Sanders claimed it was biblical to separate children from their parents? Or when she refused to answer legitimate questions? Or when she shut down a reporter because she thought he only wanted more TV time?
Where were your calls for civility when Trump and Sanders both blamed the Democrats for creating a law that doesn't exist?

The list of offensive things Trump has said, done, or tweeted is longer than the Appalachian Trail. His propensity to lie is staggering. The second-place competitor for the most frequent liar is Sarah Huckabee-Sanders. Whatever they're doing is the opposite of civility.

We have a misunderstanding of what civility means. Judged on recent cries for decency, it seems the current request is for people to be nice. If being civil means being nice, we need some history lessons. The Civil War wasn't civil. The Civil Rights movement wasn't civil. Civil disobedience is never civil. While the text book definition of civility hints at formalities of politeness and courtesy, the word's origin stems from being a good citizen. When a government grows corrupt or tyrannical, when institutional treatment of at-risk populations becomes inhumane or unbearable, when those in power abandon the norms of decency and civility, the most civilized thing for a citizen is to raise a little hell.

Former President, Franklin D Roosevelt, once quoted a Bulgarian proverb, "It is permitted in time of grave danger to walk with the devil until you have crossed the bridge." While there are many who would disagree with me, I believe we are living in an era of grave danger and we have some bridges to cross. The recent calls for civility from Trump supporters is like terrorists asking us to build bridges while they set explosive changes on the support beams. Some men just want to watch the world burn, so if we are to get to the other side of this bridge, we may need to walk with the devil. Or, as Jack Nicholson said while playing the Joker, "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" Well, I feel like dancing.

I will practice civility, but I won't be civil. If XL & DBD's song ‘Fatal Blow’ was prophetic, so was another tune from a completely different genre. A dozen years ago, Dixie Chicks released ‘Not Ready to Make Nice.’ What seemed so rebellious in 2006 is now an anthem in my summer playlist for 2018. Because, like the ladies from Dallas sang, I'm not ready to make nice or back down either. I'm mad as hell and don't have time to go round and round and round. I'll be civil, but I'm done playing nice.

You're concerned, I'm sure. You see my combative and defiant language here and suggestions about walking or dancing with the devil; you fear the worst. I can hear your voice asking, "But nic, what would Jesus do?" The Jesus I know told his disciples to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. It's time to be a little shrewder. And if all else fails, flipping tables is still an option. So, you can take your hypocritical request for civility and shove it up somewhere uncivilized.

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