Even during the Civil War, there were those urging civility at the expense of justice, as this famous Thomas Nast cartoon explains.
Illustration: Thomas Nast
Last year’s so-called “civility debate” revolved around the extent to which it was acceptable to protest the presence of Trump administration figures pursing private pleasures in public places, like the restaurants where Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders found themselves excoriated.
But in the Washington Post this week, Eve Fairbanks addresses a more difficult and important issue: How much of their own moral capital should progressives expend by accepting the grievances of “reasonable” political opponents who want them to turn their backs on vulnerable allies and constituencies in the name of peace? It’s one thing to stretch out the hand of fellowship to angry MAGA folk who would just as soon see you in prison or a reeducation camp. It’s another thing to come to grips with Never Trumpers, center-right pundits, and other non-deranged folks who suggest they could become allies if only progressives would throw those people —whether it’s campus leftists, minority-rights activists, socialists, or proponents of radical reforms — under the bus. It can be tempting, particularly to political actors who are weary to the bone of constant warfare at every level of discourse.
Fairbanks offers a provocative analogy for these pleas from the “reasonable right”: the very similar pleas from antebellum southern apologists for slavery who begged their counterparts in the North to eschew abolitionist extremists and make common cause to save the Union:
Proslavery rhetoricians talked little of slavery itself. Instead, they anointed themselves the defenders of “reason,” free speech and “civility.” The prevalent line of argument in the antebellum South rested on the supposition that Southerners were simultaneously the keepers of an ancient faith and renegades — made martyrs by their dedication to facts, reason and civil discourse.
It might sound strange that America’s proslavery faction styled itself the guardian of freedom and minority rights. And yet it did. In a deep study of antebellum Southern rhetoric, Patricia Roberts-Miller, a professor of rhetoric at the University of Texas at Austin, characterizes the story that proslavery writers “wanted to tell” between the 1830s and 1860s as not one of “demanding more power, but of David resisting Goliath.”
I haven’t read as much antebellum southern literature as Fairbanks has, but have been exposed to enough to recognize what she’s talking about: a persistent strain of appeals to “reasonable” and “rational” people “at the North” to break ranks with the “fanatics” of the Republican Party and the abolition movement who are willing to destroy the nation to impose their radical social schemes on a resistant white and black population. Sometimes these Southerners posed as cultured Cavaliers opposing the bigoted Puritans of New England Congregationalist Calvinism who led the abolition movement. But their key argument was an offer of peace in exchange for tolerating slavery. It was powerful enough to keep the slavery issue more or less under wraps during the entire Second Party system in which Whigs and Democrats were each national coalitions held together by the tacit refusal to mess with the Peculiar Institution.
The real victims of this deal to maintain the peace were not, of course, the abolitionists (or their extremist counterparts in the South, the slavery-expansion zealots). The slaves themselves were presumed to be of too little civic (as opposed to economic) value to become a true casus belli.
And while Fairbanks doesn’t extend her argument to the politics of race that prevailed between the Civil War and the 21st century, the reasonable right was there all along, offering peace — for a price. Early on, southern defenders of restored white supremacy understood that their best prospects for success depended on convincing moderate northern opinion that Reconstruction was a bar to national reconciliation and economic recovery. While the white terrorists of the South who fought to crush voting, office-holding, and land ownership by ex-slaves were essential to the task of demoralizing well-intentioned Northerners, the real triumph of reaction occurred when Republican president Rutherford B. Hayes campaigned on an end to Reconstruction and then ascended to the White House after a contested election by consummating it. Within the South itself, social peace between rich and poor white citizens was achieved by an agreement that disenfranchising African-Americans was the top political priority, and Southerners wore down resistance to the imposition of Jim Crow by convincing an increasingly conservative Republican Party to abandon the “bloody shirt” and the cause of racial justice.
The peace-for-injustice bargain, of course, continued throughout the first half of the 20th century, where alternatively, Democratic Party unity and bipartisanship depended on the South’s ability to veto civil-rights legislation. Even now, centrists of all varieties lament the passing of those golden years when white male senators got together over bourbon and cigars and cut deals that depended on the continued subjugation of people who did not look like them.
Long after the antebellum era, in which Fairbanks hears eerie premonitions of today’s “reasonable right,” it was a powerful force in American politics. And its fundamental purpose was not so much to marginalize “the left” or “radicals” as to sideline the powerless people for whom they spoke, often alone.
Does that mean the “reasonable right” proponents Fairbanks worries about are racists or neo-Confederates? No, of course not. What they are, by and large, are people who fundamentally disagree with the idea (as expressed by, of all people, Barry Goldwater in his 1964 presidential nomination acceptance speech) that “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” For various reasons, they aren’t particularly invested in progressive causes, and think reasonable center-left people should identify with their grievances against political correctness and the alleged cultural dominance of the radical left, and join with them in a coalition against left and right extremism.
To those of us who think the left is mostly (not always) right and the right is mostly (not always) wrong, these pleas for reason are the ultimate reflections of false equivalence, and the peace they offer is the troubled sleep of a guilty conscience. As always, those who will pay the real price for this sort of corrupt bargain are not “radicals” or “socialists” or “the politically correct,” but the powerless people, some immigrants, but many more the descendants of the slaves sold out by “reasonable” Yankees before the Civil War, or of ex-slaves sold out during the post-Reconstruction era, or the disenfranchised and exploited victims of Jim Crow sold out by bipartisanship.
Yes, we’d all love to get along, particularly with non-crazy people on the center-right who are unhappy that their political vehicle the Republican Party fell into Trump’s hands like a large piece of ripe, nearly rotting, fruit. But ultimately Pope Paul VI had it right with his slogan: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
What Should Progressives Sacrifice on the Altar of Civility?
Promoted links by Taboola
Everything We Know About the Odessa Mass Shooting
By Chas Danner
At least 5 people were killed and 21 injured after a gunman opened fire on drivers and pedestrians while driving through West Texas.
New clashes in Hong Kong
Hong Kong police have used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse crowds as tens of thousands marched in the city, defying a ban.Demonstrators lit fires, threw petrol bombs at riot police and attacked the parliament building.
An event to mark five years since Beijing ruled out fully democratic elections was banned in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China. On Friday, several key pro-democracy activists and lawmakers were arrested. …
On the 13th weekend of protests, demonstrators – chanting “stand with Hong Kong” and “fight for freedom” – gathered outside government offices, the local headquarters of China’s People’s Liberation Army and the city’s parliament, known as the Legislative Council.
In the Admiralty district, some protesters threw fire bombs towards officers. Earlier, protesters marched near the official residence of embattled leader Carrie Lam, who is the focal point of much of the anger.
Amazon’s fast-ship side-step
Both [UPS and Fed Ex are deeply invested in safety and] heavily regulated by the government, and many of their trucks are subject to regular federal safety inspections and can be put out of service at any time by the Department of Transportation.
But Amazon’s ingenious system has allowed it to avoid that kind of scrutiny. There is no public listing of which firms are part of its delivery network, and the ubiquitous cargo vans their drivers use are not subject to DOT oversight. But by interviewing drivers as well as reviewing job boards, classified listings, online forums, lawsuits, and media reports, BuzzFeed News identified at least 250 companies that appear to work or have worked as contracted delivery providers for Amazon. The company said it has enabled the creation of at least 200 new delivery firms in the past year, a third of which are owned and run by military veterans. Inpax gets fully 70% of its business from Amazon; some companies depend on the retail giant for all of their income.
A yearlong investigation — based on that data, along with internal documents, government records, thousands of court files, and interviews with dozens of current and former Amazon employees, delivery company operators, managers, and drivers — reveals that Amazon’s pivot to delivery has, all too often, exposed communities across the country to chaos, exploitative working conditions, and, in many cases, peril.
Public records document hundreds of road wrecks involving vehicles delivering Amazon packages in the past five years, with Amazon itself named as a defendant in at least 100 lawsuits filed in the wake of accidents, including at least six fatalities and numerous serious injuries. This is almost certainly a vast undercount, as many accidents involving vehicles carrying Amazon packages are not reported in a way that can link them to the company. And in some states, including California, accident reports are not public.
Trump was supposed to be in Poland this weekend. He said he canceled the trip to monitor Hurricane Dorian. He just choppered from Camp David to his golf course in VA.
What Should Progressives Be Willing to Sacrifice on the Altar of Civility?
By Ed Kilgore
The “reasonable right” often asks too much for peace.
Should NYC Ax Gifted Programs to Integrate Its Schools?
By Eric Levitz
The plan from de Blasio’s advisers is good policy, but dicey politics because socioeconomic segregation is quite popular with affluent voters.
Soldiers are still dying in Afghanistan – and more than in recent years
An American soldier died during a combat operation on Thursday in Afghanistan, the Defense Department said, the third in just over a week.
The soldier, a member of the Army Special Forces, died in Zabul Province, in the country’s southeast, after disembarking a helicopter at the start of a joint mission with Afghan commandos, one department official said. The exact circumstances of his death remained unclear.
A statement from the Defense Department announcing the death did not provide any details of the episode.
The soldier’s death brings the number of American troops killed in combat so far this year to 15, the highest number of losses in a year since 2014, when the Pentagon announced the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. Thirteen troops were killed in 2018, and 11 in 2017.
Everything We Know About Hurricane Dorian
By Adam K. Raymond and Matt Stieb
Dorian may be a Category 4 storm when it hits Florida early next week.
DNC Kills ‘Virtual Caucuses’ Over Hacking Fears
By Ed Kilgore
The hackability of a telephone-based virtual caucus system led to second thoughts about the system, leaving two states and many candidates in limbo.
China’s Hong Kong crackdown continues
China has effectively expelled a reporter working for The Wall Street Journal after he wrote an article about the cousin of the country’s top leader, Xi Jinping, in the latest sign of a government clampdown on media freedom.
The Chinese authorities declined to renew the press credentials of Chun Han Wong, a reporter in Beijing for The Journal, a spokesman from Dow Jones, the parent company of the newspaper, said in an emailed statement on Friday.
“We continue to look into the matter,” said the spokesman for Dow Jones, who did not respond to a question on whether the Chinese authorities gave a reason.
America’s bottom economic half can’t afford another recession
The decadelong economic expansion has showered the U.S. with staggering new wealth driven by a booming stock market and rising house prices.
But that windfall has passed by many Americans. The bottom half of all U.S. households, as measured by wealth, have only recently regained the wealth lost in the 2007-2009 recession and still have 32% less wealth, adjusted for inflation, than in 2003, according to recent Federal Reserve figures. The top 1% of households have more than twice as much as they did in 2003.
This points to a potentially worrisome side of the expansion, now the longest on record. If another recession comes, it could be devastating for people who have only just recovered from the last one.
Trump blames the (corporate) victim
If the Fed would cut, we would have one of the biggest Stock Market increases in a long time. Badly run and weak companies are smartly blaming these small Tariffs instead of themselves for bad management…and who can really blame them for doing that? Excuses!
Google Found Huge Holes in iOS Security (It’s Fixed Now)
By Brian Feldman
The discoveries pose new questions about how secure iOS really is.
the national interest
the national interest
Trump Spends Morning Mistakenly Adding Question Marks to Tweets
By Jonathan Chait
Make America great again?
As expected, Dorian is becoming more dangerous
Here Are 7 ‘Left Wing’ Ideas (Almost) All Americans Can Get Behind
By Eric Levitz
New polling finds that several supposedly radical policy ideas actually command majority support — in all 50 states.
Leaked Draft of U.N. Climate Report: Warming Oceans ‘Poised to Unleash Misery’
By Matt Stieb
By “misery,” the IPCC draft means 280 million displaced people, flood damages magnified 1,000-fold, and the melting of emission-packed permafrost.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey Apologizes for Appearing in Blackface Skit in College
By Ed Kilgore
Old times there are not forgotten down in the Heart of Dixie.
Joe Biden’s Composite War Story That Never Happened
By Matt Stieb
It’s not within his usual gaffe territory, but Biden’s blurred account of a heroic soldier is still strange considering his reason for telling it.
It’s one pollster, and not a particularly reliable one, but…
When 29 electoral votes are involved, you have to stay
WASHINGTON (AP) — Trump cancels Poland trip as Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida, will send Vice President Pence in his place.
Biden and Warren at Center of the Stage for the Single September Debate
By Ed Kilgore
A side-by-side appearance featuring the longtime front-runner and the steadily rising progressive will finally occur in Houston.
Even the president would have difficulty boasting about this crowd
What The Family Reveals About White Evangelicals, Trump, and the ‘Wolf King’
By Sarah Jones
A conversation with director Jesse Moss and journalist Jeff Sharlet.
The public would like some more gun laws
93 – 6% support for universal background checks
82 – 16% support for requiring a license to purchase a gun
80 – 15% support for a “red flag” law
60 – 36% support for a ban on assault weapons
46 – 49% support a mandatory buyback of assault weapons
— Quinnipiac U. poll
Darrell Issa Plots Comeback by Taking Out Duncan Hunter
By Ed Kilgore
Issa’s wealth and fame makes him a formidable intraparty opponent for Hunter, who goes on trial in January on lurid corruption charges.
The Hot New Meme: An 18th-Century Frenchman Who Literally Couldn’t Stop Eating
By Brian Feldman
A French anomaly resurfaces thanks to a Squidward shitpost.
Iran tried to launch a satellite, but it exploded on the launch pad
Biden’s stump story is a tall tale
Based on interviews with more than a dozen U.S. troops, their commanders and Biden campaign officials, it appears as though the former vice president has jumbled elements of at least three actual events into one story of bravery, compassion and regret that never happened.
Biden is King in South Carolina
Biden is almost a different candidate in South Carolina, feels like a homecoming. He feeds off energy and engagement of the crowds. Gets lots of cheers for standard stump lines. Many voters have told me he’s their 1st choice, some said they haven’t been looking at anyone else.
Political Reporter for CBS News