The Year in “Civility”: The 6 Worst Appeals to Norms and Good Manners of 2018

As the Right went on the offensive, these Democrats called for appeasement.

Marco Cartolano and Sarah Lazare

Former Vice President Joe Biden presents George W. Bush and Laura Bush the 2018 Liberty Medal at The National Constitution Center on November 11, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

In 2018, the U.S. Right esca­lat­ed its war on unions, tear gassed and mass-jailed fam­i­lies seek­ing asy­lum at the south­ern bor­der, con­firmed an accused rapist to the Supreme Court and advanced a plan to dra­mat­i­cal­ly erode the rights of trans­gen­der peo­ple. The Repub­li­can Par­ty also ral­lied behind a pres­i­dent who threat­ened to anni­hi­late the Kore­an penin­su­la with nuclear weapons, called Haiti, El Sal­vador and African nations shit­hole coun­tries,” and said he doesn’t believe” an alarm­ing new cli­mate report com­piled by his own administration.

Of course, there is no compromising with the far right, and in today’s climate, “civility” is just another word for capitulation.

This polit­i­cal land­scape demands fierce oppo­si­tion from the Left, but, pre­dictably, estab­lish­ment Democ­rats are deliv­er­ing the oppo­site: broad denun­ci­a­tions of the lack of good man­ners and calls for a return to a more friend­ly and ami­ca­ble order. Under this frame­work of civil­i­ty,” the ene­my becomes immod­er­a­tion and lack of restraint, rather than the Trump administration’s pol­i­tics of racism and death. Democ­rats’ search for com­mon ground push­es the entire polit­i­cal spec­trum to the right, so that war crim­i­nals like George W. Bush and John McCain are cast as the rea­son­able cen­ter — while out­raged pro­test­ers are deemed out of bounds.

Of course, there is no com­pro­mis­ing with the far right, and in today’s cli­mate, civil­i­ty” is just anoth­er word for capit­u­la­tion. In that spir­it, here are the six worst civil­i­ty” stunts from 2018.

1. Michelle Oba­ma and George W. Bush

Michelle Oba­ma and George W. Bush received fawn­ing media cov­er­age in ear­ly Sep­tem­ber when the for­mer pres­i­dent passed a cough drop to the for­mer first lady dur­ing the funer­al of Sen. John McCain. Count­less arti­cles were writ­ten about the sweet moment,” which includ­ed pro­files of a friend­ship that USA Today called BFF Goals.” When asked about the cough drop exchange, Oba­ma described Bush as a won­der­ful man.” The ges­ture was such a hit that Bush reen­act­ed it at his father’s funer­al in ear­ly Decem­ber, to sim­i­lar media fan­fare.

The stunts — now referred to as a tra­di­tion” — played into the reha­bil­i­tat­ed image of George W. Bush as America’s adorable and quirky grand­fa­ther. The friend­ly media cov­er­age, of course, omit­ted any men­tion of the 1 mil­lion Iraqis who were killed as a result of Bush’s 2003 inva­sion of Iraq.

2. Beto O’Rourke

Dur­ing Beto O’Rourke’s unsuc­cess­ful cam­paign to unseat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, he had the dis­tinc­tion of receiv­ing an award — along­side Rep. Will Hurd (R‑Texas) — for civil­i­ty.”

In July, the duo won the Alleghe­ny Col­lege Prize for Civil­i­ty in Pub­lic Life for live stream­ing the 1,600-mile road trip they took togeth­er from Texas to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. in March 2017 after the two were strand­ed by flight delays and can­cel­la­tions. The com­mit­tee praised O’Rourke and Hurd for their col­le­gial dis­cus­sions on the divi­sive issues of the day,” with the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle gush­ing about the pair’s unlike­ly bro­mance.’”

This bro­mance” helped re-elect Hurd, who vot­ed to cut tax­es for the wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans, sup­port­ed the Key­stone XL Pipeline and recent­ly vot­ed to block a House effort to end the dev­as­tat­ing war on Yemen. O’Rourke, who has attract­ed the atten­tion of for­mer Oba­ma staffers as a poten­tial pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, pub­licly refused to lend his star pow­er to sup­port Hurd’s oppo­nent, Demo­c­rat Gina Ortiz Jones. In Novem­ber, Ortiz Jones lost that race by rough­ly 1,000 votes.

3. Joe Biden

For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden spent much of 2018 set­ting up a poten­tial run for pres­i­dent, and so far has posi­tioned him­self as the van­guard of per­son­al civil­i­ty. This pos­tur­ing reached its zenith on Veteran’s Day 2018 when Biden pre­sent­ed for­mer pres­i­dent George W. Bush and for­mer first lady Lau­ra Bush with the Nation­al Con­sti­tu­tion Center’s Lib­er­ty Medal” for their com­mit­ment to veterans.”

Biden praised the incred­i­ble work” that Bush did for vet­er­ans, mak­ing no men­tion of the fact that the for­mer pres­i­dent is respon­si­ble for plac­ing vet­er­ans in harm’s way in the first place — result­ing in the deaths of thou­sands of U.S. troops, and leav­ing count­less more wound­ed and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly scarred. This is not to men­tion the peo­ple liv­ing in the coun­tries Bush invad­ed: While death totals are dif­fi­cult to cal­cu­late, one report found that, by 2015, the War on Ter­ror had killed at least 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Thank­ful­ly, anti-war vet­er­ans with the group About Face: Vet­er­ans Against the War took notice and protest­ed the event. Chants of No awards for end­less wars!” could be heard in the back­ground as the cer­e­mo­ny took place. These wars are hurt­ing every sin­gle one of us except for the politi­cians and cor­po­ra­tions that prof­it,” said one vet­er­an, shout­ing through a bullhorn.

4. Joe Manchin 

In Feb­ru­ary, Sen. Joe Manchin (D- W. Va.) tried to estab­lish bipar­ti­san deco­rum in the Sen­ate by issu­ing a civil­i­ty pledge” in which sen­a­tors promised not to cam­paign against their colleagues.

Manchin, the most con­ser­v­a­tive Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tor, argued in favor of mak­ing donat­ing to cam­paigns oppos­ing sit­ting sen­a­tors a vio­la­tion of Sen­ate ethics. I don’t see any­body in pub­lic ser­vice that’s will­ing to put their name on the bal­lot as my ene­my,” he said. If you’re will­ing to serve, then I’m your com­rade. I’m will­ing to work with you.”

Manchin extend­ed this ami­ca­ble spir­it to the most white nation­al­ist wing of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, break­ing with Democ­rats to vote in career racist Jeff Ses­sions for attor­ney general.

Yet, he had harsh words for his con­gres­sion­al col­leagues who refused to stand dur­ing Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018 — in the after­math of Trump’s racist ref­er­ence to Haiti, El Sal­vador and African nations as shit­hole coun­tries.” Manchin told Fox & Friends, That’s the way I was raised in West Vir­ginia. We have respect. There is some civil­i­ty still yet. There should be civil­i­ty in this place.”

5. Cory Booker 

On a snowy March day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., sev­er­al media out­lets pub­lished cheer­ful arti­cles about a snow­ball fight between New Jer­sey Sen. Cory Book­er and Ari­zona Sen. Jeff Flake.

The day after a snow­storm shut down most of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., the two sen­a­tors decid­ed to get their Alexan­der Hamil­ton-Aaron Burr on,” USA Today play­ful­ly quipped. Both politi­cians glee­ful­ly tweet­ed about the match, with Cory Book­er win­ning P.R. points with a lit­tle self-dep­re­cat­ing humor: I should have known this was a set­up… lost this morn­ing’s snow­ball duel to a guy named Flake from Snowflake, Arizona!”

Crit­ics were quick to point out that the fight played into Jeff Flake’s pos­tur­ing as a rea­son­able Repub­li­can in the Trump era while vot­ing for the president’s far-right pol­i­cy agen­da 81 per­cent of the time. Flake backed the con­fir­ma­tion of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and played a crit­i­cal role in pass­ing the GOP tax bill — by sell­ing out DACA recipients.

6. Nan­cy Pelosi

Soon after Democ­rats won a major­i­ty of seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the Novem­ber midterms, House Minor­i­ty Leader Nan­cy Pelosi said she will try to find com­mon ground” with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion when she becomes Speak­er of the House, ref­er­enc­ing her abil­i­ty to col­lab­o­rate with George W. Bush.

I worked very pro­duc­tive­ly with Pres­i­dent Bush when we had the major­i­ty and he had the pres­i­den­cy,” she said in ref­er­ence to her first stint as House speak­er in 2007. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this pro­duc­tive” rela­tion­ship enabled Bush to main­tain his bloat­ed bud­get for the Iraq War, send more troops to Afghanistan and dodge con­se­quences for post‑9/​11 torture.

This is not the only civil­i­ty stunt Pelosi pulled in 2018. In June, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic leader pub­licly rebuked Rep. Max­ine Waters (D‑Calif.) for call­ing for direct action to stop Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials from sep­a­rat­ing and jail­ing immi­grant fam­i­lies at the bor­der. By appeal­ing to an idyl­lic — and fic­tion­al — past, Pelosi’s con­dem­na­tion encap­su­lat­ed how civil­i­ty pol­i­tics echoes the slo­gans of Trump. In the cru­cial months ahead,” she said, we must strive to make Amer­i­ca beau­ti­ful again.”

Mar­co Car­tolano is an edi­to­r­i­al intern at In These Times. Sarah Lazare is web edi­tor at In These Times. She comes from a back­ground in inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism for pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The Inter­cept, The Nation, and Tom Dis­patch. She tweets at @sarahlazare.
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