“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
How often do we hear this Martin Luther King quote when talking of how beloved he is?
That quote came to mind as I've read calls this week for liberals to have more civility. While I understand a conversation on whether you think nonviolent direct action is what you would like to see from “liberals,” it again misses the conversation that this nation needs to have. Instead of asking folks to not “stoop to the level” of the leader of the free world as his actions, rhetoric, and policies escalate, it is beyond time that we challenge white moderates to carry their weight in the civility chase.
Having worked with the abused and the abusive, I am versed in a concept called the "Drama Triangle" that involves three psychological roles: the victim (injured); the persecutor (injurer); and the rescuer (savior). I am consistently impressed with our president’s ability to seamlessly float himself and staffers between all three and manipulate the American conscience. It parallels the process of an abusive husband mentally breaking a wife before gaslighting her into supreme loyalty. As he rose in the Republican Party, he bullied and attacked moderate peers who unsuccessfully sought ways to prevent his nomination. However, many of the same moderates who said he was unfit later pivoted, quietly voted for him and denied it in exit polls because they knew their private action compromised their publicly professed morals.
I’m odd in that I don’t get irritated by the president’s tactics, despite getting disappointed with our nation at times. I view him as a modern-day Milgram experiment that steadily tests the boundaries of how far Americans and, specifically, white moderates will let him go. Race baiting the only black president through the birther movement, banning Muslims, calling Mexicans rapists, promoting fights at rallies, mocking the disabled, shaming families and veterans after dodging the draft, joking about sexual assault, downplaying white supremacy and murder in Charlottesville, calling NFL players SOBs, and recently separating immigrant children from their parents and promoting trauma and toxic stress for political gain. Now, there are a record eight candidates with White Nationalist ties currently running for office. The FBI says white supremacist groups are as great of a threat to national security as ISIS; and yet, our president repeatedly gives full-throated vilification of various brown people due to “national security concerns” while giving Neo-Nazis a description as “very fine people.” If you are not addressing the above vigorously, your tone policing of Maxine Waters, Red Hen, and words on civility ring hollow.
The ability to vote is our most civil act, yet we have a party committed to suppression to protect against backlash. Exclusion and silence of political participation doesn’t promote civility. It’s easy to go after the sensitivity of liberals, but it takes courage to not be seduced by tax cuts and to push back against a force that indiscriminately bullies. I challenge white moderates to answer King’s call to fight for civil rights as hard as civility; for civility without civil rights is merely a bomb waiting to be detonated.