Thursday, July 05, 2018

Fuck Civility. My Second Post on the Sarah Huckabee Sanders Controversy

The background for this post can be found in my first post on this topic:  Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump's official "mouth," was denied service at a Virginia restaurant because of her political views, and that began a "national conversation" on civility in American politics and public life.  

You can see that giant "conversation" by searching for "civility" in Google news:  A long, long list of opinion pieces crops up.  And no wonder, because we all already think we know what civility is and whether it's good or bad in politics.  That makes research unnecessary and the writing fuckin wonderful!

Except for us obsessive-compulsive perfectionists. We have to do research, and so I did that.  After lots of it (and lots of chocolate, thanks, kind donors) I chose the question I want to address:

Why are some people allowed to be rude in politics and others are not?  Why would it sound shocking to hear the kind and gentle Echidne tell someone to go and fuck themselves with a tiny rusty plague-infected Q-tip,  when hearing the same from, say,  Rush Limbaugh wouldn't sound shocking at all, except perhaps for the use of the word "fuck?" 

Because much of social media is simply a giant cesspit, I limited my analysis to people who have a large audience and a public presence.  Here are the results:

0.  I began with the Bible (like Jordan Fuckin Peterson does!) and found something relevant  in that book:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Doth thou knowest the answer, my brother (1)?  And who put that beam in thine eye?  And how large are your eyes, to fit a beam?

That starting point reminds us that we just might find rudeness easier to spot from people we regard as outsiders, those not in our tribe.  In politics this means that Republicans see Democratic rudeness but fail to see Republican rudeness, and vice versa.  We should keep one of our (large) eyes on that possibility.

1.  After doing just that, I am still convinced that in the US right-wingers are allowed to be rude (i.e., have few consequences from their rudeness) far more often than left-wingers. 

Consider the term "conservative provocateur."  Our polite, civil and milquetoast media has used it to describe at least these conservative performance artists and pundits:  Ann CoulterJames O'KeefeDinesh d'SouzaMilo Yiannopoulos, Candace Owens, Katie Hopkins,
and  Laura Loomer.(2)

I created that list by a little lazy Googling.  I then repeated the Google search with the terms "liberal provocateur" and "progressive provocateur."  The first two pages of Google answer didn't give me one single name of a living American political pundit, writer or politician!(3) 

Isn't that quite wonderful?  Right-wing pundits who properly should be catalogued under the heading "assholes" are called "provocateurs."  Yet the things many on that list have said make excellent examples of extreme incivility.

Here's Ann Coulter:

LINDA VESTER (host): You say you'd rather not talk to liberals at all?
COULTER: I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days. [FOX News Channel, DaySide with Linda Vester, 10/6]
And here's Dinesh d'Souza:

Following the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, D'Souza said in a since-deleted tweet: "I am thankful this week when I remember that America is big enough and great enough to survive Grown-Up Trayvon in the White House!"
Most recently, he ridiculed survivors of the February 14th massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that claimed 17 lives, saying in a tweet: "Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs." He later apologized.

And, finally, here's Milo Yiannopoulos:

Milo Yiannopoulos is advocating for lethal violence against reporters who contact him for comments on their stories.
“I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight,” he texted the Observer‘s Davis Richardson, responding to an inquiry involving an article in progress on a Manhattan restaurant the right-winger is said to visit often.
According to Yiannopoulos, that menacing remark is his “standard response to a request for comment.”

This pattern has prevailed for at least two decades, perhaps longer.  Rush Limbaugh, another conservative "provocateur" became famous for this statement during the Clinton administration:

“Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?”
Comments made while displaying a picture of Chelsea Clinton, then a 13-year-old, on his TV show in 1994. (Source: TIME)
Limbaugh's archives would make great organic fertilizer, especially when it comes to what he has said about women in politics, including Michelle Obama when she was the First Lady:

Liberalism, socialism, communism responsible for more deaths than cell phones could ever hope to be. Liberalism, socialism, communism is responsible for more deaths than cancer. Yet everything they do is predicated on saving us from ourselves, everything they do is predicated on keeping us safe. Michelle, my butt -- uh, Michelle, my belle Obama out there talking about nutrition. You can't eat that, you shouldn't eat that.
And Hillary Clinton, of course castrates men:

Okay, let’s back up a second. Sanders today walked back his initial claim that Hillary Clinton not qualified to be president, while the former president apologized for lashing out at #BlackLivesMatter protesters.
Limbaugh reacted to Sanders’ apology by saying, “My guess is Hillary got him in a testicle lockbox.” He added the same must’ve happened to Bill Clinton too.
I bet some conservatives reading this would argue that all of the above are intended as jokes or quips.  And that is, indeed, the generic mask which hides hints of violence, anger and just plain nastiness when those are introduced in the public sphere.

The humorous style is also intended to provide an out for these performance artists.  When Yiannopoulos feared that his statements about gunning down journalists didn't look too civil in the light of the massacre of journalists at Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, he wrote that his utterances were a joke and, besides, they were not meant for public consumption.  That, by the way is Milo "feminism is cancer" Yiannopoulos.

2. What is the reason for the far greater incivility conservatives have been allowed?  Why can Rush Limbaugh make the most obnoxious statements for three decades and yet get praised by elected Republican politicians?  Why can Ann Coulter advocate violence (in her comments after 9/11, for example), and still get invited to television shows?

The surface answer is a simple one:  Conservatives are expected to be rude, whereas liberals and progressives are not expected to be rude.  The archetypal juxtaposition of a fire-breathing conservative dragon with a hunched-over liberal hand-wringing milquetoast in oh-so-many television debates has prepared us all to use different standards on what to expect.

We expect conservatives to be concisely rude in their anger and angrily concise in their rudeness, and we expect the liberals and progressives to be mild-mannered, considerate, wishy-washy and verbose.

But, clearly, that is not the answer at all, because it doesn't tell us why we hold so different expectations.

Neither does the fact that these differences have existed for at least as long as I have followed American politics explain very much, because there must have been some original reason for such disparate expectations:  Some original Big Bang out of which particles of rudeness burst out and stuck more strongly to those with conservative political opinions (4).

Donald Fuckin Trump is, of course, the prime example of someone who is extremely rude and is allowed to be that way.  The usual explanations  are that he is honest and authentic (meaning that everyone polite is a liar, because we are all, deep inside, every bit as unpleasant as Trump and get vicarious pleasure from his misbehavior),  or that his rudeness is just the way he is, that we should not let it detract from his other wonderful characteristics (5).

He is given an out.

Different individuals start from different positions in how uncivil they can be without severe negative consequences.  Put somewhat differently, the same rude statement, with the same level of anger, may be interpreted quite differently depending on whether it is uttered by a man or by a woman, by a white man or a black man, by a white woman or a black woman, by a subordinate or by the boss and so on. (6)

And Donald Trump is an old, (apparently) rich white man, a silver-back chimpanzee,  who has always been allowed to be as rude as he likes.  So why not just go on letting him have his way?  What does it hurt (other than the country and the world)?  But when a restaurant refuses to serve his press secretary, well, suddenly all rules of polite behavior have unraveled.

The above doesn't directly explain why Republicans are given more rudeness latitude than Democrats, but it hints at the likely answer:

3. As both Stephen J. Ducat and George Lakoff have written in the past (7), we have unconsciously sexed the two political parties.  The Republican Party is now either the He-Man Macho Party or the Strict Father Party, and the Democratic Party is now either the Effeminate Wimp Party or the creator of a Nanny State or the Nurturing Mother Party.(8)

This sexing is slightly reflected in which party is the more favored one among men (the Republican Party) or women (the Democratic Party), but it's not quite that simple.  It's true that more men than women vote for the Republican Party in all racial and ethnic groups, but it's also true that the majority of white women voted for the Republican Party in 2016.  And Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin, for example, are probably allowed to be ruder than many Democratic male pundits.

Thus, it's best not take these frameworks too concretely.  At the same time, they help in understanding the rudeness gap. 

Consider, for example, an exaggerated version of the kinds of things the Republicans support:  Strong military, strong police, limited redistribution of resources down the income ladder, minimal attention to education or health care, strong support for extreme "free" market competition,  and strong support of the "freedom" of patriarchal religions to affect the society.

There's a macho flavor in all of those, or the flavor of the lone guy hero living all alone in the jungle, armed to the teeth, beating down all opponents and then stopping, for a moment, to pray to some war god.  It's law-and-order, though of course the order in this case means a ranking of individuals, and the laws guarantee that ranking to become permanent.

The reverse exaggerated story can be told about the Democratic Party platform: Strong emphasis on redistribution down the income ladder, strong emphasis on health care and education for all, whether people pay for them or not,  strong regulation of markets, a preference for public production of certain goods, strong emphasis on international diplomacy rather than war, and a mixed approach to the police forces.  Human and civil rights play a role in the Democratic platform while they play almost no role in the Republican platform.

There's a  female stereotype flavor in the Democratic plan (when exaggerated).   Or a maternal flavor, if you like.  All citizens, like all children, should be fed, clothed, educated and treated fairly.  Fighting is frowned upon, disagreements should be solved by talking and in international politics war is seen as a failure, except in some extreme cases.  (Republicans tend to view war as a chance for success.)

Thus, the stories I am telling here (drawing from both Ducat and Lakoff) suggest that the Republican Party and its presidential candidates are seen as macho men (even if a few of the operatives and pundits are female), as the party of the Strict Father, who will keep us safe in exchange for our abject obedience, or punish us severely for the lack of such obedience, who will practice tough love on us.  The Democratic Party and its presidential candidates, in turn,  are seen as effeminate, as the party of the Nurturing Mother, who will care for us (on the Strict Father's credit card) but will not be strong enough to keep us safe. 

She is the one who possesses the bleeding heart and she is the one who creates vulnerable snowflake lefties.  On the other hand, he is the one without any heart at all and he is the one who creates both domestic and international bullies and wannabe warlords.

Once again, I warn not to take these symbolic frames as concrete ones. But it's likely that someone advocating for war, for tougher police and for less help to the poor might actually be expected to be ruder in that advocating than someone who advocates for sharing, caring and holding hands across national, religious and ethnic borders while singing kumbaya.  The former is, after all, advocating aggression, while the latter is advocating its reverse.

4.  What's the take-home lesson from this long and rambling post?  Perhaps it's the value of introspection and self-awareness:

Are we condoning rudeness in some political cases and deploring it in others?  If so, what is the underlying reason?  Are some politicians and pundits allowed to put incivility into their political toolbox while others are not?  And how does this differential treatment of incivility in American politics influence what that politics now produces?


(1)  Yes, my attempt to speak biblical is terrible.  But then English is not my first language.

(2)  And many, many more.  Just Google the term.

(3) The search term "left-wing provocateur" produced, in the first two answer pages, two names:  David Sirota and Alan Grayson.  I was a bit surprised not to find Michael Moore on those pages.  But note that David Sirota is nowhere near the kind of uncivil commentator that the conservative provocateur list represents.

I also Googled "right-wing provocateur."  The first two pages were mostly full of Milo Fuckin Yiannopoulos, but they also included Jordan Peterson and Gavin Innes (the seminal founder of the Proud Boys, a misogynistic organization) and Jack Posobiec, the seminal founder of the fake Pizzagate scandal.

My Google test is not an objective one, of course.  I doubt there is an objective test for determining how people, at large, react to rudeness from various activists, and Milo Yiannopoulos, for instance, crops up so often now because his comments matter in the context of the recent journalist massacre in Annapolis.

Still,  this little test tells us something about the leeway different pundits are given. 

(4)  The end of the fairness doctrine during the Reagan era is probably the point in time when a different kind of rudeness suddenly became common in right-wing radio, but incivility has  always thrived in American politics.  Whether it has always tilted to the right is unclear to me.

(5)  Perhaps you, too, have had a relative who is extremely rude, but who is allowed to be that way because, say, "he really, deep down, has a kind heart."  Perhaps you, too, have challenged such a relative with superlative rudeness (and won because you are a viper-tongue), only to be strongly scolded for acting so badly.  A very kind heart doesn't serve as a defense in that case, because certain people are expected and allowed to be rude, whereas others are not. 

(6)  The basic reason has to do with one's ranking in the social hierarchies.  Those who are ranked higher in these hierarchies are usually (though not always) allowed to be more uncivil.

But other reasons interact with that one, such as additional gender and race stereotypes, and  (on the left) even the fear of inadvertently engaging those additional gender and race stereotypes.  

As one example of the former, rudeness by black women may cause complicated interpretations by outsiders, because a) women are not expected to be rude at all, and that applies to black women, too, but b) negative stereotypes about the presumed pervasive black anger in the US interact with that interpretation when the rudeness has a hint of anger in it (as most rudeness does). 

How something of that sort might finally be interpreted depends on the specific details of each individual case (which stereotype works the strongest, whether they push in the same direction or not and so on).  Consider, say, how Maxine Waters' recent opinions have been interpreted on the right.

Hierarchies are not the only rule about who is allowed to be uncivil.  We also expect a higher level of civility from people in certain occupations, even when those occupations rank high(er) in prestige and power.  Teachers, clergy and, say, the president of the United States used to be among such occupations before the Trump era.

(7) In Stephen J. Ducat, 2004, The Wimp Factor.  Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity, and in George Lakoff, 2006, Thinking Points.  Communicating Our American Values and Vision.   Lakoff has written about the family model of the two US political parties in his other books, too. 

I have altered his basic family model of politics.  Lakoff calls the Republican Party the Strict Father party and the Democratic Party the Nurturing Parent Party.  I call the latter the Nurturing Mother Party, not because that would be any more appropriate as a label, but because our hind-brains still code nurturing as female.

Real families, naturally, don't have to follow the two models.  There are Strict Mother families, Nurturing Father families and all sorts of mixtures.  And in any case, a country is not a family and framing countries or governments as families is often pretty bad in terms of the desired outcomes.

Don't you think the term "he-man" is ridiculous?  It's putting twice as much testosterone in one short word.

(8)  That the Democratic Party is (currently) racially and ethnically much more diverse than the almost white Republican Party also matters, but I haven't seen a good symbolic take on that which would apply to the topic of incivility.  I guess the white nationalists inside the Republican Party feel themselves to be under existential threat which would certainly increase incivility in their utterances.  But that doesn't explain why that incivility would be more allowed.