This is what you get when you play the “civility” game with this Administration:
From Media Matters’ transcript, the relevant portion is at the 2:10 mark:
DAVID LEOPOLD (IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY): I have no doubt that this administration, Donald Trump, who’s advised by a white nationalist, Stephen Miller in the White House, that the secretary of Homeland Security —
KATE BOLDUAN (HOST): I don’t know if you want to go as far as to — I mean, let’s not — I just did an entire segment about civility here. I don’t know if you want to call Stephen Miller a white nationalist.
LEOPOLD: It’s not an uncivil thing. I would argue that it’s a fact, but OK.
BOLDUAN: Where is — Honestly, I have not seen that. I mean, where is the fact on that?
LEOPOLD: Well, look at what the types of policies that we’ve seen from this administration. Look who is being targeted by this administration.
This is how the “civility” canard can distort the way the news is reported. People like Bolduan are confusing “civility” with politeness. But that’s not what civility is about. As pointed out by Zack Beauchamp in Vox, “civility” is not about whether an anchor on CNN gets her feathers ruffled by a term that raises the spectre of the KKK in the Oval Office. It’s about being forthcoming and honest in dealing with those whom you disagree politically.
[L]et’s get straight on the difference between “incivility” in politics and simple rudeness. Our guide here will be John Rawls, by all accounts the greatest American political philosopher of the 20th century…
Rawls contended that to maintain a Democracy, everyone must agree on some basics that actually underlie the concept of Democracy, such as “all citizens deserve to be treated equally under the law” or similar core beliefs agreed to by general consensus. Any “debate” on how the country’s principles are to be upheld must be made within the confines of those shared, accepted beliefs:
For this system to work, Rawls argued, public debate must be free and open for people to clearly explain how their policy convictions can be justified according to the shared beliefs at the heart of a democratic society. Rawls called the obligation to adhere to these rules of discourse “the duty of civility”: If citizens in general, and politicians especially, hide and obfuscate their arguments, then people’s ability to give their informed consent to the administration disappears.
Only when debate strays outside those boundaries—by, for example, a President who is well-documented as telling more lies than any in modern history–does it become “uncivil” because that lying and deception—and not harsh words—presents the true danger to our society. So while CNN here and the Washington Post earlier today are focusing on politeness and gentility, they are ignoring the massive “incivility” that constantly emanates from this entire Administration.
Our foremost political philosopher, in short, didn’t see “civility” in politics as identical to politeness in everyday conversation. Rather, political civility is about treating members of the opposition like reasonable people. It seems more “civil,” in this view, to honestly state disagreements with individuals, even impolitely, than to try to trick them.
Mr. Leopold, an immigration attorney, is correct here. Calling Miller a White Nationalist may be off-putting to a media establishment that has never before been faced with an unabashed, hate-filled racist ideologue driving the actions of an entire Administration, but it has nothing to do with “civility.” Bolduan (“I have not seen that”) apparently wants to see Miller wearing an actual white hood, or perhaps she wants photographic evidence of him participating in an actual, documented cross-burning, or a screen shot of a swastika tattoed on his shoulder before she acknowledges the fact that Miller’s ideology, background, and the policies which he represents are indisputably those of white nationalists, or worse.
Nor is Leopold being “uncivil” in calling Miller a White Nationalist. He is stating a verifiable fact based on empirical evidence of Miller’s past behavior, words and actions, and his current role as senior advisor to Trump. The fact that a CNN Anchor may be made uncomfortable by this fact is not an excuse to try to shut down the debate, or condemn the usage of the term as “uncivil,” which is what she did, intentionally or not.
The right would love to make the debate about “politeness,” so they can point the finger every time harsh language is used against them. But “civility” is not politeness or restraint of language. It is simply presenting your views and policies within a framework that the society accepts for the common good, without lying about them to try to disguise their impact.
That’s why this Administration is and continues to be the most “uncivil” in history.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.