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Captivating America: Civility War

A red hen: The namesake of the restaurant in Lexington, Virginia that's at the center of a debate on civility.
A red hen: The namesake of the restaurant in Lexington, Virginia that's at the center of a debate on civility.

Last week, White House adviser Stephen Miller was called a “fascist” when he visited a Mexican restaurant in Washington.

Protests and chants also erupted when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited another Mexican restaurant in the city.

And over the weekend, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a small restaurant in Lexington, Virginia.

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) June 23, 2018

These incidents have led to a debate about civility and public discourse.

But why now? Many were quick to point out that Miller, Nielsen and Sanders all promote the policies of their boss, President Trump, who hasn’t always been civil in public statements. Representative Maxine Walters, D-Calif., argues that White House staffers have forfeited their right to civil treatment by choosing to align with President Trump. At a recent protest in Los Angeles, she urged protestors to continue resisting:

Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.

Others see an alarming cultural trend: the decline of basic manners in America. President Trump, as well as various conservatives, has expressed outrage over the way the White House staffers are treated during their “off” hours. The Washington Post’s editorial board said the staffers should be allowed to eat in peace.

Ms. Huckabee, and Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Miller, too, should be allowed to eat dinner in peace. Those who are insisting that we are in a special moment justifying incivility should think for a moment how many Americans might find their own special moment. How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families? Down that road lies a world in which only the most zealous sign up for public service. That benefits no one.

While in The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg said this isn’t an issue with civility at all.

Whether or not you think public shaming should be happening, it’s important to understand why it’s happening. It’s less a result of a breakdown in civility than a breakdown of democracy. Though it’s tiresome to repeat it, Donald Trump eked out his minority victory with help from a hostile foreign power. He has ruled exclusively for his vengeful supporters, who love the way he terrifies, outrages and humiliates their fellow citizens.

What’s the relationship between civility and politics, and where do we draw the line? We’ll discuss.

*Text by Kathryn Fink, show produced by Bianca Martin and Paige Osburn*.


Christine Fair, Associate professor, Georgetown University’s Security Studies program; @CChristineFair

Todd Gitlin, Former student protest leader; professor, journalism and sociology and Chair of Communications, Columbia University; @toddgitlin

Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Executive director, National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD)

Steven Clemons, Editor-at-large, The Atlantic @SCClemons

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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