Ashoka Mukpo: Fuck “civility” (Popula)
Cruelty has always been part of American policymaking. Sometimes it’s a corollary effect—somebody, somewhere, is doing something we don’t want them to be doing, and if we have to kill some people or destroy a few lives to make them stop, that’s just the price. But in recent years, there’s been a shift in how we approach immigration and the border. It’s a tired cliché by now, but that doesn’t make it any less true: the cruelty is the point.
There’s no reason to tread lightly here—and why would we want to? This is a profoundly monstrous policy, designed by deeply broken people, which revels in the suffering and degradation of other human beings purely in service of crude racism. There’s no justifying it, not if compassion and decency are even tangential elements of how you experience the world.
If civility means politely inoculating powerful people from even the mildest forms of accountability for their ugly decisions, who exactly does that kindness serve, and what’s the point of it?
Ellen’s monologue was an example of what’s fast becoming a genre of finger-wagging sanctimony in America, deployed to discipline us into performing deference to power and training us into a caustic meekness. Vote, but don’t boo the President at a baseball game. Wave a sign, but don’t confront someone in a restaurant, even if their day job is tearing families apart. And of course, don’t make an unrepentant war criminal uncomfortable at a football game.
There’s an unspoken ranking of value that the gatekeepers of civility are making when they serve us these lectures. The comfort of the VIPs they rub elbows with at gated cocktail parties and luxury boxes is explicitly more important than the lives of Iraqis or Central American asylum-seekers at our border. If we want to live in a “decent” society, we are told, we have to treat those who make us complicit in horror with genteel respect.
The problem with America’s national character is not that we’re too rude to our leaders, it’s that we’re too deferential to them. Consider the vector of incivility both Ellen and Obama blamed for the bile-soaked discourse in American politics. Was it a catastrophic war whose aftershocks will long outlast every living being on this planet, or the mask-off cruelties being inflicted upon vulnerable people at the border? Nope. For two of the most successful Americans alive, both of whom built their brands on the mantle of activism, the source of our descent into disharmony is apparently mean tweets. It’s enough to make you wonder whether the two of them think that the protestors in Santiago, Hong Kong, Cairo and Baghdad are also being ‘unkind.’
These are not mundane disagreements we are having in America. They are about whether we can continue to institutionalize brutality. Calm down, we are being told. Try to change things if you want, so long as you don’t make anybody in charge feel uncomfortable or isolated. With all due respect, fuck that.