Opinion

Renée Graham

Civility can wait; the fight for democracy cannot

Protesters demanded that children be reunited with their immigrant parents during a demonstration Saturday in San Diego.
DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images
Protesters demanded that children be reunited with their immigrant parents during a demonstration Saturday in San Diego.

THROUGHOUT AMERICA, there are thousands of migrant children, some whose ages are still counted in months instead of years, still forcibly separated from their families.

Meanwhile, a white supremacist wants to hold a “White Civil Rights” rally across from the White House in August to mark the first anniversary of last summer’s deadly racist march in Charlottesville, Va.

And the president of the United States is explicitly advocating for undocumented immigrants to be denied their due process rights.

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But, sure, tell me more about The Great Civility Crisis of 2018.

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This was an inane talking point even before White House fabulist Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant last weekend. Now, it’s one of those handwringers designed to fill cable news hours and turn journalists and pundits into finger-wagging scolds.

“Bad weekend for civility in America,” trumpeted a CNN chyron. Gayle King, cohost of “CBS This Morning,” said the Sanders story made her “sad.” She added, “Civility really matters, especially now.”

Frankly, you can miss me with all this Aunt Pitty Pat pearl-clutching. This nation is devolving into chaos, but it’s not because Sanders and her dining party didn’t finish their cheese plates before being shown the door. Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of The Red Hen in Virginia, asked her concerned staff if they wanted Sanders to leave. They voted yes.

She explained to Sanders that The Red Hen has “certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.” The Trump administration, of course, honors none of these qualities. When Sanders offered to pay, Wilkinson said, “No. It’s on the house.”

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Sounds pretty civil to me.

For those supporting bakers who refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, or a pharmacist who declines to fill a prescription because he has a moral objection to its medical use, think of Wilkinson’s stance as a faith-based decision. And one of the tenets of that faith is an aversion to lies, racism, incompetence, and cruelty.

That’s what’s driving this. Well, that, and a furious unwillingness to surrender our nation quietly to Trump and his dystopian hellscape. You don’t bring Miss Manners to a no-holds-barred street fight. You resist, and you get angry.

I ignore anyone who claims we must respect and listen to the anger of Trump voters, even as they denounce anger on the left as counterproductive and self-defeating. Stoking anger, especially racial resentment, got Trump to the White House. No one told his supporters wearing “Trump That Bitch” or “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required” T-shirts to be civil.

Civility is a buzzy word for the ultimate goal: submission. Republicans don’t want civility. They want us to shut up. It’s civility in the form of a boot on our collective necks.

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For years, Republicans have been all swinging elbows and low blows — remember when Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina yelled “You lie!” at President Obama as he addressed a joint session of Congress in 2009? But let anyone else play by the same rules, and they’re the first to whine about the lost art of disagreeing without being disagreeable.

Don’t call them snowflakes. Snowflakes are unique and distinct. Republicans are all the same.

So save the hypocritical lectures. Civility did not end slavery, defeat the Nazis, or get the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts passed. (Both, by the way, being methodically gutted by the US Supreme Court.) It will not defeat the most uncivil man ever to occupy the White House.

Civility can wait; the fight for our democracy and constitutional rights cannot. As Zora Neale Hurston once said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.