Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Battle Against Coarseness and Incivility in Trump Nation Will Be A Long One

Image result for Trump rage images
"I say nyaaaah! Fuck the country and fuck all those who didn't vote for me! How's that for bein' civil?"

Seriously, this is the state of the Union now: an inherently uncivil state riven with crudity and coarseness, most of which emanates from Trump and his Vulgarians.  Now we know (Denver Post, Mar. 12, p. 12A) there is a dedicated mission afoot to restore some level of civility to the nation especially in terms of public dialogue and discussions. Alas, the chance of returning to a civil era with Trump in the White House is slim and none.

As per the Post article  ('Initiatives Fight Back Against Coarseness') we read:

"Americans alarmed and disheartened by a coarsened culture and incivility in politics - especially after a brutal presidential campaign season - are fighting back with a range of initiatives around the U.S. to restore some semblance of decorum."

Seriously? After 62 million of our fellow citizens helped put a 'pussy grabber" and mocker of the disabled into the freaking White House?  How in the hell can the well meaning decorum seekers get back any degree of comity or civility now that 46 percent of the electorate committed mischief of faction and put the ultimate uncivil renegade into the highest office?

But we now know interest has surged in groups such as the National Institute for Civil Discourse, founded at the University of Arizona and in the wake of the ascension of Trump to the White House, following his unrestrained, caustic, uncivil campaign.  As noted by Carolyn Lukensmeyer, the Institute's Director:

"I don't think there's any question that this is a national crisis at this point."


Let us agree then that one of the roles of a President is to project decorum and respect for this office, and from this office to the world - and to his fellow citizens But what did Trump do in his recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel? He sat next to her like a goddamned spoiled brat pouting and refused to even shake her hand! The epitome of classlessness, and gauche behavior. Commenting on this exhibition, NY Times' Richard Cohen wrote:

"When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He wanted money — piles of it — for Germany’s defense, raged about the financial killing China was making from last year’s Paris climate accord and kept “frequently and brutally changing the subject when not interested, "

Meanwhile, one commenter also wrote:

"Trump's behavior with Merkel was not only disgraceful, it showed the rest of the world what a shallow, ignorant, unprepared, know-nothing he really is. Every American, and especially every Republican who voted for this man, ought to be ashamed and embarrassed. The GOP has besmirched the presidency, harmed our national security and soiled our country's international reputation"

Some might think this comment to be hype but not if you've been paying attention the past 75 days. Anyone with eyes and more than air between the ears can see how low Trump and his sickening lot have set the bar for civility.

The D. Post article actually included some referenced head scratchers, such as this one compliments of Brendon Holloway who "participated in various Democracy Project Initiatives", e.g. at Middle Tennessee State:

"There's so many people with a difference of opinion. It's really important to bridge that gap."

Why? This comment shows me that Holloway has no clue why this gap exists and why people are becoming more energized about expressing differences of opinion. But in the wake of the fail of the misbegotten GOP tax cut plan (AHCA) - masquerading as a health care plan - he at least ought to have a clue by now.  In particular, seeing how many items would have been cut had it passed, including ER visits, hospitalizations, maternity care, and mental health services.

The point is that when you threaten a citizen's basic welfare and health care access he is not going to just take it lying down, not if he or she is sentient. No, he will protest and do so loudly and regularly at town hall meets. (And no, he doesn't need to be paid to do so!)

In the same way, after I learned yesterday that a gaggle of Republicans in the Colorado State House plan to block implementation of the medical aid in dying act (despite it being passed by 65 percent of Colo. voters on Nov. 8th) I was furious. I am now advising members of the 'Indivisible" movement in our state to protest at the actual homes of these presumptuous reprobates. One of whom was actually quoted in yesterday's Post as saying: "I find that law so morally offensive I cannot in good conscience allow taxpayer dollars for any part of this process."

Sorry, asshole, it's NOT up to you! That is what the people - taxpayers, voted for. At least 65 percent did,  so that they WANT their taxpayer dollars used for that purpose, To turn it upside down and make it like you will impede the bill based on the 35 percent minority (that didn't vote for it)  is to commit mischief of faction. In that case, you merit being protested relentlessly and vociferously - and in front of your home!

Is that being "uncivil"? In some quarters it might be so considered, certainly politically incorrect. But I make no apologies.  My reasoning is that it is more uncivil, more barbarous,  to disrespect the will of the state's voters.  Hence, those who do so - like these three GOP lawmaker mavericks - make a mockery of democracy  Since civility will be in greater regress if democracy fails, there must be payback for their actions. The desire to move toward civility - while worthy in itself- cannot be used as a smokescreen (or bludgeon)  to inhibit or prevent robust outrage or protest when and where it's justified. As it surely is in the cases I've cited. 

Having said that, there's is much to be said for retaining civility in interpersonal discussions and  debates.  This despite a recent Zogby poll that found more Americans believe it's okay to interrupt, shout over, belittle, insult and personally attack a person or question his or her patriotism. Absolutely not okay. We treat each other with respect even in the midst of heated exchange. The only exceptions I make are in the case  - say for town hall or other meetings - when reps disrespect their constituents. Say by not allowing a meeting in the first place, or not allowing them to speak and voice their complaints, such as in the recent meetings about the repeal of Obamacare.

Will people speaking out get excited and perhaps over the top in their vehemence? Yes, perhaps they will. But what does one expect when their family welfare may be on the line, or worse a family member may face his untimely end if he is unable to get the care he needs.

British author and manners gadfly Lynne Truss, in her book, 'Talk To The Hand: The Utter Bloody  Rudeness Of Everyday Life', documents a whole litany of examples of how basic civility has declined. She examines many reasons for this state of affairs, including the breakdown and erosion of class and power barriers - which over the centuries ensured common folks toed the line. Now with those barriers collapsed, every manjack believes he's owed the same deference and respect as a prince, king or Lord  - no matter what he says or how he behaves.  This has even led to the extreme situation (p. 131)  of a "Universal Eff Off Reflex" in which many aren't prepared to tolerate a whiff of criticism by an equal or a higher up. (She cites one London youth wearing the tattoo "FUCK OFF!" on his arm, as if to deliver pre-emptive warning to anyone who might castigate him for his long green hair, shaggy jeans or beard.)

But this could encapsulate the present state of affairs in our social media realm too. I addressed a lot of this in my August 26 post on 'internet hate culture', e.g.

wherein I noted the rise of hate on the Internet and  especially in sites as  diverse as Reddit, Twitter and even Facebook, that hate speech and vitriol  has become the new coin of the realm.  This was thanks to mentally deranged trolls who get off on pissing in public and on fellow commenters.  The frequency of vile comments, particularly in media comments forums, caused many sites to simply shut them down rather than consume resources to monitor and exclude the worst transgressors.

Truss' theory is that much of this can be traced to so many now carrying around them a personal "bubble" wherein  they perceive what they do at home or in the company of fellow degenerates, is now acceptable in public. So, because one carries his or her "bubble" in a kind of "omnipresence", i.e.  in which these things are allowed they aren't subject to behavioral norms. So we see airline passengers with no thought or consideration for others' sensibilities putting their bare feet on the tops of seats during a flight, or cutting their toenails and tossing the clippings into the air, or worse, picking their noses and rubbing the extracted nasal effluent on sundry backs of seats. Because these simpletons believe they're in their own personal bubbles it doesn't matter to them - and if others were to complain ("Why'd you wipe that bugger there?"), they'd likely invoke the Universal Eff Off.

Truss also extends this to the public square and political spaces. She doesn't mention Trump or his followers, because her book was published before he arrived. But it doesn't take a mind reader to know what she'd say of the Trump phenomenon and why he got elected: He epitomizes the brashness of the "ego bubble" trumping all personal niceties and sensibilities and hence applauded as being "different', anti-establishment and a "rebel". More to the point, his actions such as bragging about "pussy grabbing" were seen as transcending political correctness and "phony manners".

It would follow to Ms. Truss that Trump's ascension meant that a sizeable proportion of the population bought into this meme, or the "Universal Eff Off" reflex on a national scale. Is this bad for the nation? Of course! Because, as she puts it (p. 144):

"Other people have been eradicated, expunged ...or just ordered to stay indoors and stay out of my bloody way."

One of Ms. Truss statements stands out and ought to be taken to heart by Trump and his gang (p. 196):

"it is time to be plain at last. Manners are good. Rudeness is bad. Modern people are impatient with the good-bad distinction. They consider it intellectually primitive.  But rudeness is a moral issue and it always has been. The way people behave towards each other, even in minor things, is a measure of their value of human beings.."

Ignore the small niceties and what happens? Well, before long pussy grabbing is accepted, as well as mocking disabled people, belittling a Senator who spent 6 years in a North Vietnamese prison, and .... engaging in nefarious activities with a foreign power to interfere in an election. Of course, the ultimate embodiment of rudeness today is the Trump tweet, because it is aimed at further eroding manners while exalting the personal "bubble" of his own ego.  And Trump is the perfect embodiment of the rude human who lacks any superego that might otherwise exert control on his wanton, toddler-esque blurtations.

What is Trump's biggest crime against the polity? Ms. Truss would say without hesitation, it is defiling and undermining the conception of the "common good" and hence all those political actions that have a bearing on the common good. All his actions, as we've seen, explicitly are about exactly the opposite: eschewing the common good for whatever Trump believes is his personal good. In tandem with this dismissal is his yen for untruth, outright falsehoods. The one plays into the other: dismiss the "common good" as a lie or fabrication or mistake and you pave the way for its disrespect.

The media, alas, plays into this by not calling Trump out where and when he flouts the very concept of truth. Such was the case in the recent TIME  (April 3rd) with magazine cover asking "Is Truth Dead?" and in the related article 'Can Trump Handle The Truth' by Michael Scherer (p. 32). Throughout the piece Scherer cites Trump's disdain for the truth even referencing his praise - "as a businessman for strategic falsehood and truthful hyperbole" .  Of course, being truthful excludes hyperbole, so the phrase is an oxymoron. there's no such entity.  Incredibly, Scherer quotes Hanna Arendt's famous 1968 quote that "Truth is therefore hated by tyrants who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot monopolize". 

Yet her words seem to sail serenely over his head because, in the next sentence, as if taking leave of all his gray matter, he writes: "Although Trump is a tyrant only in the minds of his of his most fevered critics he often talks like one, e.g. any negative polls are fake news".  As if agreeing with Arendt then contradicting himself in the same sentence, especially as Trump always "talks like one".  His 'fake news' claim echoes on every item from climate change, to the Russian intelligence reports, to the election results.  Or to quote a recent WSJ editorial ('A President's Credibility'):

"Gallup has Trump's approval rating at 39%. No doubt he considers that fake news, but if Trump doesn't show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he's a fake President."

Or to quote Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett in a recent piece: "Can anyone in their right mind believe anything this man says anymore?"  Well, evidently, Scherer can manage that feat given he dismisses those who do as "fevered critics". (Yes, this referred to Trump being a tyrant, but as Arendt said, truth is hated by tyrants. Hence by definition Trump is a tyrant. Those who refuse to call a spade a spade or a tyrant a tyrant, are part of the problem.)

Thus it is cutesy, 'maybe -he is- maybe he isn't' passes like Scherer's which cause us to properly impute guilt to media nabobs who gloss over Trump's total disrespect for truth, even in so-called interviews. In trying to be objective and impartial, therefore, Scherer loses nearly all his credibility - by giving Trump's lies (and hence yen for tyranny) partial cover - as he dismisses those who recognize them as "his most fevered critics". As if they under some kind of delirium or spell. To bolster this, in the following TIME issue, April 10, in the 'What You Said' section with letters in reply to the previous issue, the editors quote an Alabaman commenter  who insists the "left as well as the right media is guilty" - employing the false equivalence meme. It is tripe like this that makes one want to tear his hair out, despairing this country will ever get its act together.

This evident tolerance of dissembling again goes back to the defects I described in terms of the dominance of the premoral mind. This was elaborated by Cheryl Mendelson, former Professor of Ethics and author of 'The Good Life'   who wrote (p. 77):

"In the premoral mind, in place of moral individualism - the individual's capacity to think and act according to conscience - there is mere egoism: the demand or wish, to be allowed to do and have what one wants....Because of his sense of entitlement, his greed and his demand for superiority feel right to him and are not internally moderated as they are in moral minds. Moral restraints may provoke him to outright rage and hatred."

Hence, we have the perfect tie -in to Ms. Truss' point of why one would regard Trump as rejecting any common good, hence any adherence to moral basis for manners, civility.  As Ms. Truss writes (p. 197):

"If we each let that part of our brains 'for the common good' shrivel on the vine, the ultimate result is crime, alienation and moral hell.  Manners are easy to dismiss from discussions of morality because they seem to be trivial.  The words 'moral panic' were invented to belittle those of us who burst into tears at the sight of 300,000 pieces of chewing gum on Oxford Street.  But if we can't talk about the morality of manners, we can't talk about the morality of anything. "

 Her next point is what that needs serious attention if those associated with the Democracy Project Initiatives are to make headway in returning our nation to civility after Trump leaves office. That is, "in place of manners, we now have doctrines of political correctness, against which one offends at one's peril."

The crux of our problem then is to excavate the need for attention and respect for the common good from the banal bane of political correctness.  We therefore cannot have a case where one expresses convictions or arguments that are politically incorrect and  then "by circular logic is marked as reactionary and therefore bad".

My earlier comments (endorsing protests in front of GOP lawmakers' homes) may be seen by some
as impolitic or politically incorrect, but their intention was for the common good.  And as Ms. Truss observes (p. 198): "Manners are about being connected to the common good".

In this sense, I believe firmly the Colorado medical assistance in dying act is FOR the common good, and at the same time that anyone who seeks to impede or obstruct it is acting against the common good. Hence, it is my duty as a citizen to inveigh against him - or them - and if that means energetic protests in front of his home, so be it. I apply the same thinking and actions to those who attempt to overturn the ACA or implement the god awful AHCA of Trump and Co.

What we really need to get this country back on an even civil keel then, is to follow Ms. Truss final bit of advice (p. 199) and assert "I am not going to calculate the cost of this action to me, I am just going to do the right thing."

Don't know what the 'right thing' is? Then step out of your personal bubble for the time you're considering what to do and then act with purpose toward the common good. You won't go wrong. If you are unable to perceive the common good or recognize it, then you are too much under the spell of Vulgarian Trumpism.

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