Our Public Pedagogy of Incivility
Michael Shermer wrote a compelling summary of what the best available data shows about the relationship between gun ownership and violence—at the individual, family, and state levels.
Laura Bischoff analyzed the struggles surrounding Issues 2 and 3 on the Ohio state ballot for this Fall.
All week we have read about the ongoing Ohio charter schools controversy and the ‘fog machine at the Pentagon.’
In the sports pages we see that Atlanta Hawk’s player Thabo Sefolosha was found innocent by a jury in NYC of obstructing justice, resisted arrested and disorderly conduct charges filed after the police broke his leg.
Rick Pitino’s NCAA powerhouse basketball program is now under investigation for allegedly providing strippers and prostitutes for recruits and their fathers.
Dana Milbank analyzes how a few dozen far right Tea Party members of the House ‘have plans to bend the entire House to their will,’ no matter the consequences.
And William Hershey notes that incivility in politics resulted in defeat for Republicans in 1964 and then again for Democrats in 1968, when Ray Bliss restored civility within the Republican Party to defeat a sitting VP (before Bliss was fired by the victorious Nixon who then rolled back civility efforts…and was defeated as a result).
What do these stories have in common?
Men with power corrupting civil society and our body politic? Just the way it is? Competing echo chambers in the internet era insulating opponents from the need to engage with alternative perspectives? Far right business groups funding think tanks to provide ‘data’ to support any opinion, no matter how inconsistent with the best available data?
The best available data shows that a gun in your home for protection is 22 times more likely to be used to kill a member of your family (suicide, accidental shooting, homicide) than to be used against an intruder and states with the strongest gun laws have the lowest firearm fatality rates while states with the most permissive gun laws have the highest firearms fatality rates.
As a result, Shermer argues, it is no accident that 1.35 million Americans have been the victims of gun fatalities since 1970 (compared to 1.39 million who have died in all wars since the American Revolution); mass public shootings now occur once every 1.6 weeks (compared to once every 2.6 weeks before 2010); and in 2014 alone 66,019 Americans were killed or injured by a gun…180 per day, 7.5 per hour. Not an accident; a choice.
Issue 2 seeks to make the citizen initiative process more restrictive to prevent business interests from ‘using the citizen initiative process to their benefit’ as they did when they got a constitutional amendment passed authorizing four casinos the sponsors of the initiative now profit from. Issue 3, to legalize marijuana, is being portrayed as another abuse of power by business leaders sponsoring this initiative.
There was no effort to change the initiative process to stop the casino amendment or after it passed or even now, just as we have seen no effort to reign in the business leaders profiteering on tax dollars as they impoverish our public school system in the charter school scandal.
And that effort now, targeting Issue 2, depends on a willful misreading of the Issue 2 language. If the sponsors of Issue 3 really cared about reducing the ability of business interests to exploit tax payers they would widen their scope to include preventing their own business allies already doing just that.
Thabo Sefolosha was assaulted by the police and then charged by those officers with the standard charges used to punish anyone who takes issue with police brutality: obstructing justice, resisted arrested and disorderly conduct charges. When a jury heard the evidence they found him innocent of all charges.
Were he not a wealthy NBA star he would not have been able to fight this systematic assault that makes NYC look a lot like the small town politics detailed in the DOJ’s Ferguson Report, where all the power players are in on the ‘conventional wisdom’ that ‘these people’ are unwilling to accept individual responsibility or accountability so it is okay to demonstrate a lack of individual responsibility and accountability in punishing them. His civil suit may shine a light on this, but for how long?
As a life-long athlete and sports fan I am deeply offended by the Rick Pitino’s and Joe Paterno’s and countless others who feed on our sports frenzy to become role models for misogyny, ignorance, and the blindness of the privileged who insist they deserve to be above the law.
As a life-long political junky I am deeply offended by the Tea Party, Heritage Foundation, Pentagon PR experts, Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter types who feed on our democratic openness to become role models for (see above)…such that a president seeking reasonable restrictions to reduce regular violence is greeted by hate-filled, misinformed, privileged protesters persuaded by the likes of these to see themselves as put-upon victims rather than among the privileged.
“Civility requires practice,” Hershey tells us and I agree. What these stories have in common is that they reveal elites in our country providing ordinary Americans with repeated opportunities and invitations to be (and become) less civil, to be less skilled in the art of democratic citizenship, and less able to make democracy work for all of us.
Incivility, like our vigilante tradition and new jim crow, is shown here to be an elite-led form of violence eating away at the great American experiment.