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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Who gets to sit at the table?

by digby

I excerpted Michelle Goldberg's great piece on the Red Hen controversy yesterday. This piece by Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker makes a different but equally important point. He talks about the human meaning of sharing food and sitting with strangers at the table and how important that is to civilization. He acknowledges that liberals are especially torn by this since their values of toleration and inclusin are particularly challenged in this moment.

But then he gets to the nitty gritty:

[N]o, we don’t want to set a precedent in which politics are so personalized that even simple common coexistence becomes impossible. As a moral duty, we should share the pleasures and conversation of the table with as many people of as many views as we can—and, even when we can’t, we shouldn’t grumble too nastily under our breath at our kids when someone at a nearby table takes up the case for the Donald. (A self-directed moral rule, this.)

On the other hand, the Trump Administration is not a normal Presidential Administration. This is the essential and easily fudged fact of our historical moment. The Trump Administration is—in ways that are specific to incipient tyrannies—all about an assault on civility. To the degree that Trump has any ideology at all, it’s a hatred of civility—a belief that the normal decencies painfully evolved over centuries are signs of weakness which occlude the natural order of domination and submission. It’s why Trump admires dictators. Theirs are his values; that’s his feast. And, to end the normal discourse of democracy, the Trump Administration must make lies respectable—lying not tactically but all the time about everything, in a way that does not just degrade but destroys exactly the common table of democratic debate.

That’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s chosen role in life—to further those lies, treat lies as truth, and make lies acceptable. This is not just a question of protesting a particular policy; in the end there are no policies, only the infantile impulses of a man veering from one urge to another. The great threat to American democracy isn’t “policy” but the pretense of normalcy. That’s the danger, for with the lies come the appeasement of tyranny, the admiration of tyranny, and, as now seems increasingly likely, the secret alliance with tyranny. That’s what makes the Trump Administration intolerable, and, inasmuch as it is intolerable, public shaming and shunning of those who take part in it seems just. Never before in American politics has there been so plausible a reason for exclusion from the common meal as the act of working for Donald Trump.

And what about civility? Well, fundamental to, and governing the practice of, civility is the principle of reciprocity: your place at my table implies my place at yours. Conservatives and liberals, right-wingers and left-wingers, Jews and Muslims and Christians and Socialists and round- and flat-Earthers—all should have a place at any table and be welcome to sit where they like. On the other hand, someone who has decided to make it her public role to extend, with a blizzard of falsehoods, the words of a pathological liar, and to support, with pretended piety, the acts of a public person of unparalleled personal cruelty—well, that person has asked us in advance to exclude her from our common meal. You cannot spit in the plates and then demand your dinner. The best way to receive civility at night is to not assault it all day long. It’s the simple wisdom of the table.

We can all be uncivil at times. And my own tribe is not innocent in that. But something different isw unfolding right now. It's beyond my previous experience in politics. Certainly in the past there has been more violence, more physical conflict and extremely sharp rheotirc on all sides. We've had wars.

But this assault on reason, reality and truth itself is something new. That the man in charge is a psychologically unfit, imbecilic demagogue with a media that is brainwashing tens of millions of his followers is also new. This is a dangerous, authoritarian cult of personality in the making, with powerful people enabling it.

Look at this and tell me that we don't have a more serious problem that "civility" on our hands: