Incivility is indeed uncomfortable, but like any weapon there are moments when it must be employed in self-defense.
It was like a Biblical triptych of our times. On one end, a man telling the heartfelt story of a girl with Down’s Syndrome being forcibly ripped from her mother’s arms, on the other a fascist responding “womp womp!” and in the middle a beatifically silent newsreader letting the obscenity unfold. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski made plain both the substance and practice of his ideology with the characteristic efficiency of his imperial icon: cruelty, swaddled in mockery that evokes the most callous of internet trolls.
The atrocity unfolding on the United States’ southern border is not new, and it has been a swelling cancer on the national consciousness for years. But that continuity should not obscure the dramatic and deliberate ways in which it has been catastrophically worsened courtesy of deliberate enforcement mechanisms put in place by Trump and his cadre, aided by the contemptuous consent of the man’s rabid supporters. We are continually barraged with appeals to understand Trump’s supporters, even as multiple New York Timesop-eds lament the supposed vulgarity of people like Robert De Niro or Samantha Bee.
Frank Bruni writes:
“When you answer name-calling with name-calling and tantrums with tantrums, you’re not resisting him. You’re mirroring him. You’re not diminishing him. You’re demeaning yourselves. Many voters don’t hear your arguments or the facts, which are on your side. They just wince at the din.”
In the wake of Donald Trump tweeting that Latinos were “infesting” the country, the best the Times could do was proffer this rather nuclear take:
“The contagion of incivility: President Trump says undocumented immigrants want to ‘infest’ the United States. His critics respond with vituperative words of their own.”
Of course De Niro and Bee were mentioned, putting the expectorates “fuck” and “cunt” on the same level as the leaden words of policy that shatter families and traumatize children. What could be more balanced?
Amidst all the hand-wringing about civility is the implication that if only we were nicer to Trump’s supporters, if only we refrained from four letter words and discomfiting comparisons to Auschwitz, if only we assuaged the hurt feelings of ICE and called cages “chain-link enclosures” or baby jails “tender age facilities,” that we would win more people to our cause.
This is a fatal lie that will see blood in the streets, and in camps before the end.
Vulgarity and incivility are indeed coarse and uncomfortable, but like any weapon there are moments when they must be employed in self-defense. This is just such a time. If we cannot be vulgar about a cabinet secretary lying to the nation and saying “we do not have a policy of separating families at the border” when her own department has produced statistics and photos evidencing just such a policy, then what is vulgarity for? The milk of human kindness, strained as it is, should be spared for those children and their shattered families — and, indeed, for their homelands who have oft suffered from American foreign policy stretching back decades.
The Kafkaesque cruelty of making their homes unlivable and hammering apart their families when they flee in desperation to the border of the nation that looted its wealth from those selfsame ruins… it’s unforgivable.
At such a point, I’ve no kindness left for Kjerstin Nielsen when she has the audacity to go to a Mexican restaurant for a charming dinner while her department presides over a profound human rights violation, which she had the audacity to lie about. In the midst of all of this, Trump’s supporters have dissembled and equivocated on the question, arguing that asylum-seeking and immigrant parents are to blame for bringing their children in the first place, or that separations are about protecting children from “traffickers and drug lords.” Online, they’re even less circumspect. And that brings us back to the “womp womp,” and to the late report that Trump adviser Stephen Miller “actually enjoys seeing those pictures at the border.”
These people have told us who and what they are, and what they’re willing to make excuses for.
After Lewandowski’s on-air act of cruelty, Trump supporter Carmine Sabia tweeted:
“We as supporters of Donald Trump need to stand and say what Corey Lewandowski said about a 10 year old girl with Down Syndrome was abhorrent. He became the caricature of what the media wants people to believe we are.”
But this is who they are. For evidence I turned to Trump supporter Carmine Sabia, who tweeted that same night “A poem on the Statue of Liberty is not immigration law it’s a fucking poem” and a quote about how 765,000 children are supposedly separated from their active-duty military parents (presumably, those children are not held in cages and permanently separated from their families). This callousness and whataboutery, which is the perfect distilled essence of how Trumpists have justified the family separation policy, is what paves the way for Miller’s sadistic enjoyment or Lewandowski’s ability to mock a traumatized 10-year-old girl.
In short, these are the people that those hand-wringing editorials think can be reached by the right combination of reasoned argument and smiling politesse.
Here are some home truths that we — and The New York Times newsroom — need to understand.
We are well past the point when Trump or his people could cross a red line for Republicans. Nothing this Administration says or does will cause these people to turn against Trump. Every line of cruelty Trump crosses will be excused by them. The mealy-mouthed NeverTrumpers like Ben Shapiro, David Frum, George F. Will, and Bill Kristol? That’s it; that’s as good as GOP/conservative “opposition” is ever going to get. Everyone else has signed up for a one-way ticket to Nazism-but-with-memes.
Back on Twitter, I saw someone — with a verified checkmark — going around saying that when a child dies in one of these jails that that’ll be the moment the GOP turns on Trump. I have some very, very horrifying news for you.
We are way past the point when a dead child would make any of these MAGA-spewers, or any elected Republicans who aren’t already issuing tepid do-nothing critiques, change their minds. They knew what they were signing up for.
They hate Latino immigrants. They hate refugees. They hate asylum seekers. Passionately. If you think, for one moment, that they would seriously mourn the deaths of any of these people, you have not been paying attention. Either to the discourse here or in Europe — lest we forget, a little Syrian boy washed up on the shores of Turkey, dead from the dangerous Mediterranean crossing. That was in 2015. Since then, Brexit happened, Trump was elected, and fascists have come to power, or entrenched it, in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Hungary.
The people who support these movements were not and will not be moved, by even the most utterly vulnerable visions of our humanity as people of color. They will not be moved even by the very shattering of our lives. That is the depth with which we are hated, and that depth is the chasm that divides people of good will from those who support Donald Trump — or Alternativ für Deutschland.
This is not an academic “difference of opinion.” It is a gap measured in increments of blood already spilled.The people who support these movements will not be moved even by the very shattering of our lives. Click To Tweet
If a child died in an ICE facility and became a cause celebre, Trump’s supporters would respond in one or more of the following ways:
- Dissemble. i.e. “maybe they were sick when they got to the border! How irresponsible of their parents!”
- Lie. “It’s fake news!”
- Blame Obama.
- Say “well you didn’t care this much when an immigrant killed an American citizen!”
- “What about when our troops die? Do you care then?”
- And finally, the worst of them would just fucking celebrate it.
The enduring mistake made by those huffing the paint can of civility is that they sincerely believe people who voted for Trump, at bottom, care about other people — especially those who could be seen as “the Other.” True, some slices of Trump’s base hate certain groups more than others. Maybe the top priority for some is hating Muslims, for others it’s Latinos, for others still (like the Evangelical base) it’s hating transgender people, or hating queer folks more widely. But they are all united by the conviction that Trump’s presidency would permit them the violent retribution they craved, visited upon somegroup they hated with a passion.
Trump is a shambles of a man, a bundle of impulses and appetites whose Jupiter-mass ego lends itself neatly to reactionary politics. But to his base, he is an idea. More than even that, he is a license. Clothed in the power of the presidency, he grants permission to those who’ve longed to indulge in their worst, most bigoted impulses. It’s why we’ve seen an uptick in hate crimes, and why so many videos are surfacing of loudmouth bigots who either reference Trump or current events in their rants. More than anything else, Trump is permission. “It’s okay to stop caring about other people,” his existence announces. “You too can be fabulously rich, above the law, and as abusive as you please.” So long as he has the imprimatur of the presidency, he will have an invincible appeal to bigots who’ve yearned for some form of towering legitimacy for their hatred.
You cannot wait for some universal moral outrage to overwhelm and convert your opposition. The outrage will never be universal until the threat of fascism has passed, at which point no one will want to admit they cheered on crimes against humanity.
If you are sincerely concerned about the great crimes of our time — from Trump’s policies to the new Italian government threatening to expel Roma — then you cannot concern yourself with appealing to the people vociferously cheering on those policies. They’ve already made up their minds; they’ve found their moment.
Many other people, perhaps people isolated by feelings of powerlessness and despair, are waiting for theirs. Your job is to give it to them, activate and mobilize them. In the process, do not give the slightest damn about the hurt feelings of fascism’s enablers. The only feelings they care about are their own, and that’s always been the problem. They’ll whine more about the cancellation of Roseanne than they will about giving toddlers PTSD. Frankly, fuck them.
There’s no eloquence that should be wasted on them.
The dirty secret of fascism is that its appeal is not rational; it is, therefore, impervious to rational argument. You cannot talk someone out of a feeling of hatred. If your conscience requires you to believe in redemption, as mine does (once a Catholic, always a Catholic), then consider this: Redemption is not yours to give. It can only be sought by the soul that craves it, that has admitted its sins, and seeks to honestly make amends. You cannot give that to anyone. Those who now support fascism may one day stare in a mirror and cry “what have I become!?” But that epiphany can only come from within.
In the meantime, fuck ’em, and organize everybody else.