"Civil" Disobedience | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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"Civil" Disobedience 

Crank Call

Published January 24, 2001 at 7:10 p.m.

I want everyone to hear loud and clear that I'm going to be the president of everybody, whether they voted for me or not.

— George W. Bush, January 2001

The unity of a nation’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual.

— Adolph Hitler, March 1933

So, what moved you the most about Select’s inaugural? Was it the “compassion” and the “character,” or the “unity” and “civility?”

I’d answer the question myself, only I wasn’t watching. So far — cross your fingers — I’ve managed never to hear Select’s voice or see his lips moving. This is an art I developed under his father, and I mean to perfect it in the next four years, if we live that long. At the first sight or sound of that smirking ape, the remote does its job.

A reader writes in to say that I’m “frantically bilious and bitter” on this subject, and that I don’t know the meaning of coup d’état. I can only answer that “Education Week” is right around the corner — Select and the boys will be fixing it in no time. Just hang on long enough and “no” words will have any meaning.

Take “civility” — please! The dictionary defines it simply as “courtesy” or “politeness,” neither of which, historically, have had anything to do with American politics. You can look this up: The Continental Congress wasn’t the love-fest it’s made out to be. The Founding Fathers were more like Founding Brickbats — great big babies and sulkers, huge egos, everyone yelling and stomping off in a huff. I don’t expect “folks” to know this anymore, so bamboozled have they been by multicultural claptrap and business-management blather. But when a Bush fundraiser says, “The president-elect is an extraordinarily good unifier,” she is not echoing an American political tradition.

In its current usage, “civility” was foisted upon us by corporate protocol and adopted as Goddess-given by social workers, “educators” and the Idiot Left. All groups use it for the same purpose: to stifle dissent. In the boardroom, “civility” means that, ultimately, no one challenges the leader, the system or “the team.” That’s exactly what it means in the schoolroom, too, and at the doctor’s office, on the telephone, and in the banking and insurance industries. It’s more than your life is worth these days to be marked as having — or being — “a personality conflict.” It assumes you have a personality to start with — a big liability to the bottom line. Character in a nation, sí! Character in a person, no!

Note that if you raise your voice or appear upset for any reason, however legitimate, no one in “a civil society” will speak with you or deal with you at all. Not until you’ve examined your anger, anyhow. “Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment,” Select insists. “It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. And this commitment, if we keep it, is a way to share accomplishment.” The New York Times gets all poetic about Select’s alliteration — “community,” “chaos,” “commitment,” “accomplishment” — as if he’d actually written his speech himself, which we all know he didn’t. Here’s how Select really speaks:

• “The California crunch really is the result of not enough power-generating plants, and then not enough power to power the power of generating plants.” (New York Times, January 14.)

• “I would have to ask the questioner. I haven’t had a chance to ask the questioners the question they’ve been questioning.” (Press conference, January 8.)

• “I know there is a lot of ambition in Washington, obviously. But I hope the ambitious realize that they are more likely to succeed with success as opposed to failure.” (Associated Press, January 18. My thanks to Jacob Weisberg of Slate, who keeps a running list of “Bushisms” for the incredulous.)

Remember that “civility” applies only in actual human encounters — meetings, say, or complaints — where accurate information, a decision or even an opinion might make a difference. You won’t see “civility” on the screen, for example — on any of your screens — or, for that matter, on the streets and roads. Road rage and air rage are morphing into “cubicle-rage” at the office, according to the Wall Street Journal, but let’s not spoil the party. “This is my culture for you!” Ricky Martin shrieks from the Lincoln Memorial, letting fly two lies at once.

Note also how quickly the corporate media, in recent weeks, have adopted two articles of faith. This first is that the economy is tanking, which it may or may not be. The second — and more insidious — is that America is now “a divided nation.” There is “a cultural divide.” We are “bitterly divided,” “two nations,” etc. Note, finally, that the call is not to bridge this gap, if it even exists, but to “put it behind us,” to put it aside — to erase it, in fact. “This is a day to suspend political passions,” Peter Jennings intones on ABC News, apart from “absolute cynics.” There are to be no Gaps in Amerika outside the mall.

My own brother called here last week to ask if I was “serious about this fascism thing,” and I answered: “No one ever is.” Select was sworn in by the same Supreme Court justice who handed him the presidency, so when he says, “Sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent but not a country. We do not accept this, and will not allow it” — who can argue with him?

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Peter Kurth

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