One of these things is just like the other.
Image: bob al-green/mashable

Conservative doublespeak just got taken to a whole new level.

There are many reasons to balk at politicians’ and commentators’ calls for “civility” in response to Donald Trump officials getting kicked out of restaurants. Say, the hypocritical fact of Trump’s own acerbic behavior, or the idea that “civility” is the least of our worries at a time when the U.S. government has separated migrant families at the border with no plans for reuniting them. 

Now, the people of Twitter have honed in on a particularly piercing rebuke of the civility balloon by invoking the idea that helped put Trump in office: that conservatives in fact ended “civility” themselves, by just calling it “political correctness,” and labeling sensitivity about the language we use as a problem.

This “civility” brouhaha all started when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders oh-so-innocently tweeted that a restaurant denied her service. 

Sanders’ statement came several days after protestors drove Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen out of a Mexican restaurant by yelling “shame” at her, after a press conference in which she defended her agency’s family separations at the border. 

At another Mexican restaurant in D.C., one patron went up to Stephen Miller, who is the reported architect of many of Trump’s immigration policies, and called him a fascist. Protesters have also staged rallies outside of Miller and Nielsen’s homes.

Meanwhile, Rep. Maxine Waters supported the public confrontation of Trump officials at a rally in Los Angeles, and used the word “harass,” which really got people hot and bothered.

“The people are going to turn on them, they’re going to protest, they’re going to absolutely harass them until they decide that they’re going to tell the president ‘no I can’t hang with you, this is wrong,” Waters said.

After Sanders’ Red Hen incident, the protests, and Waters’ comment, national conversation took a detour away from topics like, oh, the Supreme Court decision upholding the Muslim ban, and the separation of children from their parents at the border. Conservative politicians and several editorials decided that this was the moment to lament the lack of “civility” in America. 

In particular, a Washington Post editorial telling readers to “let the Trump team eat in peace” caused a firestorm on Twitter. Republican Jeb Hensarling opened a committee hearing with Waters decrying her comments as uncivil and not neighborly. And Republican political adviser David Gergen told CNN that today’s protests are less “civil in tone” than the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and 1970s. 

Many other editorials and segments followed echoing the same need for “civility.” And Marco Rubio got sassy about the use of the word “fuck” by a Capital Gazette reporter who survived the deadly shooting at her workplace.

Also, Trump made a lightly veiled violent threat. But anywho…

People have not taken kindly to the civility comments. Some have said that incivility is exactly the correct response to the Trump administration. And others have pointed to the hypocrisy of the statement given the president’s own history of mocking women, minorities, people with disabilities, and anyone who opposes him.

But beyond pointing out hypocrisy, there is a very clear answer to the doe-eyed question of “gee, where did American civility go?” And it is at the heart of what got Trump elected: the Right’s previous obsession with the damage that “political correctness” was inflicting on the country during the Obama years. 

The argument went like this: America has become so politically correct, catering to the whims of sensitive minorities, that it has infringed on Americans’ right to say what we really think, and it has allowed for America to become overrun with (dark-skinned) migrants. There was a sense that if something offended people, that didn’t mean what that thing said was actually incorrect — it just meant that it was offensive. 

So Trump rode into office as the candidate willing to tell it like it is, “crying liberals” be damned. His truth-telling about invasive immigrants would cut to the heart of America’s real problems (not its fake problems, like racism), and thereby Make America Great Again. 

Trump has railed against political correctness 37 times on Twitter, frequently using it as the ending note and resounding message of his campaign appearances.

Trump and his supporters objected to politically correct speech because the fear of being called a racist made America less secure. So every penis joke, “lock her up” chant, Mexican rapist comment, and disabled reporter impression just strengthened him. 

Where did “civility in America” go? Down the toilet with “politically correct” sensitivity about stereotyping, racism, and sexism. 

Now, the people of Twitter aren’t going to let conservatives have their cake and eat it, too. Many have pointed out that “civility” is just a re-branding of “political correctness,” something that conservatives previously pinpointed as the source of America’s ills. 

If conservatives were so concerned about preserving their ability to use slurs and “tell the truth” even if it offended people, why are they opposed to liberals using the sharpest arrows that speech allows to protest conservative policy, in the face of those enacting that policy?

It can feel like a maddening exercise in futility to point out every Trumpian hypocrisy or blame-shift. But in this instance, dissecting the language used to paper over real issues is crucial.

Let’s remember: Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Red Hen incident tweet distracted from the media shitstorm that the family separation policy had caused. Now, by interrogating the narrative of civility, we are actually able to bring the conversation back to the issue of immigration at hand. That’s because Trump invoked arguments against political correctness to lay the groundwork for the inhumane immigration policy that it is now enacting. 

Recently, the New York Times reported on the Right’s newfound embrace of the First Amendment to push forward an ultra-conservative agenda. From this report, and from how civility and political correctness have been summoned as a distraction from landmark Supreme Court decisions and family separation, it’s clear that the battle over freedom of speech has consequences beyond language. 

Let’s make sure those who seek to lock up immigrants, enable unlimited campaign spending, or abolish abortion, don’t have the last word.


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