In defence of public ostracism.

Public confrontations between Trump officials and activists, ordinary citizens and at least one restaurant owner have reignited the debate about “civility” in political disagreement. The editorial boards of leading US newspapers and Democratic leaders have called for restraint and asked those with anti-Trump opinions to refrain from harassing or confronting Trump officials in the public space when the latter are in a private capacity (such as eating in a restaurant). They claim doing so will play into Trump’s hands by reinforcing the narrative that the “Left” is an unruly mob uninterested in the right to privacy and free speech.

That is nonsense.

This is no longer a situation where taking the moral-ethical “high road” when the opponent goes low is practically effective. The “high road” strategy has not worked in the US since the Reagan days, when Republicans adopted a “stop at nothing” approach to politics that eventually produced the Trump presidency. Time and time again Democrats and progressives have been trumped by a disloyal Rightwing armed with unsavoury and unethical tactics such as Swiftboating and race-baiting. The situation at present is an ethical nadir that calls for what game theorists define as a “tit for tat” strategy: open with a cooperative (read: civil) move, then repeat the opponent’s move (with a turn to cooperation by the opponent rewarded for it). When Trump was elected the Democrats and public at large waited to give him the benefit of the doubt and some political space to prove his opponents wrong. He responded by proving them right and turning the White House into a cesspit of incivility, aided and abetted by a coterie of surrogates, advisors and sycophants who all share his sociopathic tendencies. Thus the proper retort is to respond in like kind, albeit with a twist.

Let’s begin with the fact that the US “Left” or what passes for it is of the soft (non-violent) persuasion. For all the talk about Antifa and Trotskyites smashing things, the bulk of Left violence is the garden variety protest march-turned-small riot where either a few provocateurs try to incite a bigger riot by breaking windows, looting and/or assaulting police or opponents (because most of the “militant” Left rallies are in fact counter-protests against white supremacists and neo-Nazis); or the Left protestors engage with Rightists in physical confrontations using sticks, bottles, Mace, edged and other improvised weapons (the Right does in fact bring firearms to many protests and its adherents of course have used them on more than one occasion, but the majority of the Right-on-Left fights involve variants of basic hand weapons). There have been no assaults on Trump officials and no attempts on the lives of anyone in his administration.

The US Left is mostly about shouting slogans and making witty placards against the status quo; the US Right is mostly about threatening or carrying out violence in defence of racial and ethno-religious supremacy. So when it comes to civility or the lack thereof, it is not the Left that is the problem.

Then take the Trump administration itself, which is anything but “civil.” There are two dimensions to its incivility: its policies and its tone. Trump and minions like Sarah Huckabee Sanders regularly use insults, character assassination, dog whistles, stereotypes and slander to belittle and undermine opponents and critics (and allies!) at home and abroad. The list of such is far too long and readers will be all to familiar with them for me to recount here. This is an administration that thrives on the politics of personal attack and which regularly sets new lows when it comes to Executive discourse. In fact, the immediate response of both Sarah Sanders and Trump to her denial of service at a restaurant (where her presence was opposed by the majority of staff) was to use their official Twitter accounts to disparage the establishment and its owner. In effect, Trumpsters whining about being confronted in their private time is just a case of crocodile tears on the part of bullies unaccustomed to being personally called out on their behaviour.

Add to that its callous disregard for fundamental ethics on a number of fronts (conflicts of interest, disclosure of confidential material, use of taxpayer money for private pursuits), and what we have today is the most uncivil US administration ever. Heck, Trump makes George W. Bush look dignified and smart and Richard Nixon look honest and statesmanlike, so there never again can be an argument as to who is the worst US president of all time. If nothing else his record when it comes to incivility will be hard to beat.

Then there are the policies of the Trump administration and the ways in which they are implemented or attempted. The Muslim ban, the ban on transgender military service, the opening up of wild lands to fossil fuel exploration, the withdrawal from international treaties and agreements, the removal of protections for disabled people, the cutbacks in funding for special education, denial of climate change and removal of scientists from White House offices, the edict to engage in forced separation of undocumented immigrant families–these and many more policies are underpinned by overtly racist, classist, misogynist, xenophobic and authoritarian attitudes that reek of contempt for the institutional process, the meaning of public service and the basic democratic principle of public accountability.

More importantly, Trump administration policies are mean in intent and consequence. They are designed to hurt rather than help people. They are designed to use the power of the federal government to punish and oppress outlier groups and reward and advantage insiders. They are blunt instruments of malevolence aimed at pounding the body politic into complying with a vision of society based on hierarchy, hate, privilege, stratification and self-interest/greed. In word and deed, Trump and his cabal hurt tens of thousands of people on a daily basis and make no apologies for it.

So what is so civil about that? And why should we be civil to them in return? Is not staying silent in the face of official incivility submission or acquiescence to it? I believe that it is.

Instead of silence, I think that we should make things very personal to every single Trump minion, surrogate, spin doctor, media acolyte, political donor and corporate toady. The message, delivered up close and personal, should be that the policies of hate and greed have no place in a secular cosmopolitan society and the politics of personal attack can work two ways. In this case the attack is not physical even if confrontational: the Trump entourage need to understand and feel in their personal lives the discomfort of threat and opprobrium. The repudiation of Trump policy needs to be made personal to them because both the administration lackeys as well as the foot soldiers implementing their policies believe that they are personally immune from liability or accountability.

Those at the top believe that the office of the presidency protects them from personal reproach, and those at the bottom believe that anonymity protects them from individual retribution. If we cannot confront the originators of bad policy in the public space and their personal lives and if we do not equally confront the enablers and implementors of uncivil policies, where is dissent and opposition heard? The courts, which are increasingly stacked with Trump appointees? Congress, where both chambers are controlled by the entity formally known as the Republican Party but which is now a Trump coat-tail and rubber-stamp machine?

No, the time for civility ended a while ago. The truth is that “civility” in political discourse has been eroding since the Reagan era, mostly thanks to the antics of the media and Political Right. So the calls for Left civility are both hypocritical and self-defeating because they work to silence those who wish to stand up to political bullying while ignoring the bullies themselves.

Mind you, I am not talking about physically attacking people or confronting their dependent children in any way. I am not advocating people go out and deliberately harass  Trump administration officials. What I am defending is the practice of calling out those responsible for despicable policies regardless of place. If we are going to ostracise or “name and shame” sexual offenders, local fraudsters, animal abusers and assorted other low-lifes and miscreants who are not in the public eye, why should we defer from doing so to those that are?

The best way to drive home to Trumpsters the fact that their actions have negative consequences is to make things personal understanding that timing and place need to be factored into the equation in order to be effective (e.g. yelling at people outside of church or at kid’s sporting events may be counter-productive while a quiet or polite rebuke in a parking lot may make the point better. There are plenty of ways to be direct and personal without seeming creepy or unhinged). It is not as if these agents of misery are constantly exposed to public wrath. They have enough time to enjoy the bubble and echo chamber that is their political support base in and outside of the institutions of office. They have the option to defend themselves via argument or escape, and many have bodyguards to buffer them from physical aggression. So let’s stop this nonsense about civility and lets make things real: in order to gain respect one has to give respect. In order to be treated with civility one must be civil as well. And if one disrespects entire groups of people and ruins the lives of thousands while catering to the baser instincts of the minority that are one’s political adherents, then better be prepared to hear about it in person.

Because civility is not about silence or submission. It is about consent. And when consent is lost, then civility includes the right to make personal to those who rule the reasons why.

29 thoughts on “In defence of public ostracism.

  1. I wonder how Trump would fare leaving a country where violent gangs threaten you and your family, you have no possessions, there is no work, then fording a river to then sleep in a cage?

  2. Thanks very much for this post Pablo. Not a moment too soon. It has always been my motto that ‘like must be responded to with like’. Nothing else will suffice. When a person, a group of persons or an entire government acts with incivility and blatant bully-boy behaviour, then it is incumbent upon those in the firing line to return the ‘compliment’ with a volley at least as strong as is being received.

    We have a Labour-led govt. in NZ that could be likened in some ways to the US Democrats and they, too, are inclined to act holier than thou in the face of threats, bullying and incivility from the other side. It has never succeeded in the past and won’t in the future. As you say, we are now well past the stage of gentlemanly and ladylike confrontations and the sooner our current leaders everywhere recognise the need for “tit for tat” responses the better.

  3. Thanks Anne, and welcome back.

    I think the mantra should be “you play nice and I will play nice, but if you do not, then it is time for you to face the music.” And that should apply here in NZ where certain jerk politicians are slipping into US-style personal attacks and innuendo on opponents, media and critics rather than focus on policy alternatives and the legitimate political value of differences of opinion.

  4. great post. thank you.

    also, that tit-for-tat strategy was the stand-out winner in a tournament designed to find evolutionarily successful strategys. a simple rule that beat all kinds of fancy complex strategies other game theorists had dreamed up.

  5. Oh. My. Word. Jumping the shark Pablo. I am genuinely surprised at how far you have strayed from humanity, rationality and civility. This post should be a joke, what a shame it is not. When a Christian wont bake a cake you use government to force them to. When the intolerant left don’t agree with their opponents it is OK to incite violence or the threat of violence.
    It was the boorishness of Trump vs the corruption of Clinton. Trump is certainly not my idea of an ideal president but that does not excuse incitement to violence on the childish pretext of the other side started it.

    You smear Reagan and Bush. The outgoing Clinton administration were petty whilst Bush managed a high quality handover to Obama. Obama set the deep state on Trump in a fake attempt to prove collusion.
    With the intensity of the media and Obama administration attacks a defensive attitude is hardly a surprise. Trumps tweet trolling is almost funny.
    The Giffords shooter was a paranoid schizophrenic. The Republican baseball game shooter was a homeless Sanders supporter. Please drop the pretense that the Venezuela supporting left are all innocent teddy bears compared to the mean nasty right. What a childish caricature.

    Venezuela is the real outcome of your leftist policies. The prosperous West is the real outcome of capitalism.

    You seem genuinely to have lost any concept of democracy and free speech. I pity you all.

  6. Phil,

    The irony of your diatribe is funny. To even try to compare the antics of the Drumpf administration with any other (yes, even that Bush/Cheney disaster), then launch into rants about the “deep state” and Venezuela (which is beyond off topic in the context of this post), demonstrates either insincerity or incoherence on your part. Plus, if you were to read what I wrote you would see that I specifically ruled out violence as a legitimate option even against the bottom feeding scumbags that inhabit the WH. Methinks it was late in the day and your thoughts were a bit clouded when you wrote this comment.

  7. No Pablo I meant every word.
    I dropped a few facts in to rebut your factless assertions. You call that a diatribe instead of addressing the points.
    Play the argument not the person. Unless you cannot muster facts anymore.
    Invite the mob and pretend against all historical evidence you don’t mean mob violence. Reap the whirlwind fonzie. Leftist intolerance lead directly to Trump.
    And will lead to his re election.

  8. Phil,

    Are you losing it? What “facts” are you talking about? That comment was like a Hannity/Judge Jeannie Faux News mashup. The only thing missing was Benghazi. Your critiques tend to be better than that.

    I am looking forward to the midterms.

  9. The apologists of a lunatic wannabe demagogue who labels an entire ethnic group an infestation of animals, drug dealers and rapists do not deserve the shield of civility when going about their business.

    That is a lesson from history.

    Mr. Sage seems the type who would have been a polite supporter of that nice man Mr. Mosley, in the expectation that Mosley could moderate Herr Hitler.

  10. Trump and civility don’t belong in the same sentence.
    Well said Pablo!

  11. Thanks Barbara,

    Given the distorted coverage by Rightwing media outlets of the Maxine Watters comments after the Sanders restaurant episode, in which they say absolutely zero about Drumpf’s behaviour before and after, I should note that the politics of public ostracism needs to be calibrated carefully so as to not lend itself to cheap manipulation by Drump and his enablers. Context and tone matter when confronting the merchants of evil.

  12. Bullies and liars always need to be confronted. I speak from personal experience. Timing and tactics matter.

    I learnt this as a young child.

    As recently as a few weeks back a manager tried to bully me. I responded appropriately. So far senior management has left the matter alone.

    The manager concerned has been civil (no apology but I do not expect that from cretins). I am now in my 70’s.

    Chumpism is everywhere. As much as I detest Tony Blair he is correct in signalling a return to 1930’s thnking.

    My fear is a return to 19th century thinking.

  13. Pablo
    No such thing as a deep state. Mkay ;-) Read some of Andrew McCarthy at the National Review

    You said Left don’t use violence. The Republican Congressional Baseball shooting is a clear rebuttal of your caricature. The shooter was a leftie.

    It is fairly clear you hate Trump. He is burning the whole poisonous house down. That may be a good thing even though we may agree that his methods leave something to be desired. Trudeau is lovely so help the lefties ignore the massive Canadian dairy tariffs. Merkel is sweet so lets ignore the lies about Diesel cars and let Germany off on the 10% EU tariff on cars vs 2.5% US tariff on cars.
    Harvard and Yale are perfectly OK to discriminate against those nasty Asians. They are too smart for their own good.
    Weinstein was great until he was not.
    The hypocrisy of the liberal establishment is incredible.
    Drain the swamp Donald.
    The midterms will be interesting. If the anti Trump lies about the children at the border are picked up before then the Repubs will be OK, otherwise they will have issues. But Trump has momentum on his side and will be in great shape for 2020. The truth is gradually coming out. Comey, McCabe, Strok. All sacked for a reason.

    Sanctuary – Get a big fat Godwin up ya. You lose. ;-)

  14. Ah Phil,

    You appear to be channeling our old friends Redbaiter and Paul Scott. Something has turned in you. Using one deranged “lefty” shooter to claim that the US Left is as or more violent than the Right is just ridiculous. Remember Charlottesville and all those nice people with their tiki torches?

    The claim that there is a US “deep state” is equally absurd. There may be career security bureaucrats and some of them may hold partisan views, but claiming that there is some deeply rooted malevolent machinery spanning all branches of government that conspires to do this and that is up there with 9/11 conspiracies. The truth that no such exists lies in the fact that it could not prevent Drumpf from being elected or using the WH as a personal enrichment and vendetta vehicle while attacking the very institutions that supposedly comprise the “deep state” on a daily basis.

    At least we can agree that the midterms will be exciting. One thing is also clear: Obama screwed up massively by not using a recess appointment to fill the SCOTUS seat now filled by a Trump lackey. With Justice Kennedy standing down, the die is cast for a retrograde court rolling back decades of hard gained rights and protections. It goes to prove my point as well. Obama tried to go the high road by not using the recess appointment in the face of GOP Senate obstructionism (you may recall that the GOP majority would not even schedule a hearing with his pick). The GOP Senate majority of course was using the lack of a vote as an unprecedented weapon of obstruction, perhaps knowing that Obama was too honorable to get down and play dirty. So in the end their disloyal opposition tactics paid off and then some. Along with his waffling on Syria and reluctance to more forcefully confront the PRC on its island-building projects in the South China Sea, I would list the inability to seat a SCOTUS justice as Obama’s biggest failure.

  15. Pablo

    Epic trolling. “
    Donald J. Trump
    The face of the Democrats is now Maxine Waters who, together with Nancy Pelosi, have established a fine leadership team. They should always stay together and lead the Democrats, who want Open Borders and Unlimited Crime, well into the future….and pick Crooked Hillary for Pres.”

    I never claimed the right had no violence. Merely your assertion that the left was peaceful and the right violent was demonstrably wrong.

    Yeah well Obama made a lot of mistakes. Trump would be a lot more constrained if Obama had followed the law rather than invoking executive privilege. Kind of strange for a constitutional law professor not to understand the difference.

    I also did not believe in the deep state until really truly understanding the utter egregiousness of the top ranks of FBI/DOJ over the last few years.
    That and Clinton pay to play corruption whilst Secretary of State being acceptable.

  16. Excellent point bringing up the game theory tit-for-tat strategy. The way the game is being played has changed, Republicans have shifted to a successful short-term strategy of outrageous lying and extreme hypocrisy. Of course it will blow up in their face in the long run, but the amount of damage they could do in the mean time is too massive to ignore. It is time for the left to give up the pretence that the stakes are low.

    I’m really doubtful that Democrats have it in them to play hardball though and IMO the progressive Sanders faction is still years away from being able to wrest control of the party away from the liberal Clinton wing.

    At this point it would take the Democrats trying to pack the SCOTUS like FDR attempted for me to respect them again. There is no possibility of good faith any more.

  17. Godwin of Godwin. I read that link.
    Sport clearly your superior intellect and argument have won the day. When actual people dress as Nazis it is acceptable to call them Nazis. My former brother in law belongs in that space.
    But for you, confronted by someone using facts you have not taken the time to see both sides of and don’t understand in your haste to virtue signal? That just makes you a gooseberry. Sport.

  18. Pablo
    So I think we have objectively proven within this thread that, to quote you, “the “Left” is an unruly mob uninterested in the right to privacy and free speech.”
    I count myself as a supporter of many of Trump’s policies despite his many flaws.
    Trump/Bush vs Clinton or Obama are objectively better for the world in my humble opinion.
    If you are at a public march loudly expressing your opinion or we are having a pint together I would reasonably feel able to verbally express my disagreement with your views. In both cases that is reasonable.
    Objectively and according to your criteria above I am a Trump supporter who should be confronted and attempts to intimidate me into changing my position are entirely legitimate. Members of my family have diametrically opposed political views to me. But to you it would be perfectly legitimate for you and a mob to confront me in a public restaurant while dining with my family to try to force me to change my opinion.

    That my friend is very definitely jumping the shark.

  19. I was struck particularly by this sentence.
    “If we are going to ostracise or “name and shame” sexual offenders, ” When Deborah Coddington published a book of New Zealand sex offenders she was widely derided by the left.
    So Trump supporters should be confronted and sex offenders privacy respected? Really?

  20. Phil:

    I do not appreciate your ignoring my request in order to score cheap shot points nor do I appreciate your putting words in my mouth. Nowhere in the post is it said that sex offenders deserve privacy while Drumpf supporters do not, and nowhere in the post does it say that regular Drumpf supporters should be confronted in public spaces. You know well that I was referring to Drumpf administration officials/policy makers and those that enforce their bullying edicts (ICE, Border Patrol, DHS). Twisting words is a dishonest argumentative tactic that you have not used before, so I again say that you seem to have lost a sense of propriety, both in terms of debating style as well as in your support for this despicable lot of sociopaths.

  21. It is pretty simple really.

    If you lock up children in cages, you don’t get to eat your dinner in peace.

    Seems legit to me.

  22. Because it is closer to his original family name (which his brothel owning KKK sympathising granddad changed) and because it sounds apt for a ignoramus like him. Plus, “Burns” was already taken by the Simpsons.

  23. Just watched the segment re Michael Hobb’s humanitarian work in Kenya where US donations stopped and Donald J Trump’s horrible tentacles reached the donors to a school’s project and they ran for cover. What has happened to so many ‘good’ Americans that this man can run rampant, not just in the US but across the world. The recipients being Kenyan no doubt would have inflamed him.
    Barbara Matthews.

  24. sanctuary
    Obama spokespeople proudly retweeting pictures of detained immigrant children in cages in 2014.
    Oh the irony, the irony. it burns… ;-) So does the stupid

    Pablo – Lets agree to disagree. I was lumping you with the left in disagreeing with naming and shaming sex offenders, so I assume you agree with Deborah Coddington. Although a book is much less invasive. You did exclude confrontation in front of a church but the context was a dinner.
    You make the ridiculous and easily reubuttable statement that “The US Left is mostly about shouting slogans and making witty placards against the status quo; the US Right is mostly about threatening or carrying out violence in defence of racial and ethno-religious supremacy. ”
    You allow Antifa a free pass and lump everyone on the right as neo nazis. What childish crap.

  25. If a nation fails to highly educate ALL its people (not just the rich and wily), what you end up with, is a Trump or Drumpf as you call him Pablo (very appropriately). It’s a nice linguistic combo of dumb, trump and rump. The final ‘f’ can speak for itself.
    Indoctrination of fundamentalist views , whether re Science or religion are stultifying and a good way to keep the people down.

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