This is not another treatise on why it’s OK to confront your elected officials in public when they enact policies you find repulsive and inhumane. That’s a given, and other people have written better-researched and more informative takes than I could offer. It’s a boring debate on its face, mainly because there shouldn’t be one; in the United States, politicians exist to serve the interests of their constituents, which means they should be made to answer for any and every single thing they do while supposedly working in the interests of the people they govern. To be frank, confronting politicians is not only justifiable, it’s a moral imperative, and one that should be enshrined in law (elected officials should be required to hold at least monthly, if not weekly, face-to-face town halls with the public).
ANYWAY, even if we dismiss the notion that politicians somehow deserve our respect and civility as a baseline, the hand-wringing beltway elite are mistaken about civility politics on an entirely different level: one that wrongly presumes not only the effectiveness of olive-branch, bi-partisan kumbayaaism, but also fundamentally misapprehends the conservative mindset.
The myth of the “working-class” Trump voter has widely been debunked. There’s no evidence to suggest that the President was brought into power by a groundswell of blue-collar, Midwestern and Southern Johnny Lunchpails, which in turn exposes the myth of the “reasonable” Republican as a lie. Make no mistake, the demographics of Trump’s voting bloc are not rooted in Appalachia mining towns or bombd-out Rust Belt enclaves. Rather, they are the supposedly “forgotten” upper-middle class. These are people who own multiple cars, run successful businesses, live in McMansions, and spend a majority of their ample free time posting memes about cartoon frogs shoving Bill Kristol into ovens.
The reason it’s important to appropriately separate the Trump supporter from the Trump voter lies in the confounding and naïve theses of nearly every panicky Op-Ed that has been farted out by an overpaid ivy-league graduate over the past week or so. The theory goes one of two ways. Option one: alienating Trump’s backers on the hill is counterproductive, because “incivility” breeds “incivility” and will only lead to the base becoming galvanized. This is hogwash on its face; to support Trump is to be possessed of an intractable, inherent bitter hostility that frames every waking second of life. Nothing can quell the white-hot, searing resentment that rages inside of every conservative. Not political victories, not economic success and stability, not the comfort and love of family and friends. The resentment is rooted in a feverish internal wailing that only ramps up in pitch and volume with each passing year, as civilization inevitably marches on—imperfectly, problematically, and with dire consequences for the vulnerable that should not and cannot be understated—towards incremental progress. The old ways of life, what we know about the world and how we occupy it together, are changing, and societies are adapting. To a conservative, this amounts to no less than a betrayal. A broken promise that America has long extended to the powerful—mostly white, wealthy, straight, Christian men—since its inception.
That’s important context for understanding the second prong of “civility” op-ed writing. “Incivility” is useless, the story goes, because it does not affect political change. Only voting does that. This is well-intentioned enough, and certainly nobody taking it upon themselves to scream in Jeff Sessions’ face that he’s an evil fraud should not vote, but the math is off. The fact of the matter is, most conservatives don’t push for the policies and legislation that they do because they want the world to change in any material way—most of them have every material thing they could ever want, and will be able to pass these things on to future generations of their families easily. Their places in the world are safe and stable, confirmed by society. Most conservatives—the elite, multiple-boat owning class that brought us Donald Trump, that is—are comfortable in their day-to-day lives. What they lack can never be satisfied, as the world has left them behind. So they wave their MAGA hats and cheer their child concentration camps and sneer about California and Chicago and climate change “hoaxes,” not because it impacts their lives in any discernible way, but because it allows them to bathe in the brief, fleeting reprieve that comes with knowing you’ve triggered the liberal cucks. Brief flashes of feeling powerful are the only joy any of these people have in an otherwise cold and meaningless existence.
Similarly, conservative politicians only exist to serve the wills of these slobbering, hateful idiots and to gleefully exercise their own power in the process. But politicians don’t suffer from the same buried existential crises that their constituents do. That their lives have meaning—for good or for ill—is obvious. They shape and enact political will (or do not). Whatever else might be on a politician’s conscience, he or she can rest easy that they go to sleep as somebody whose life (ostensibly) matters. The wielding of power is to the conservative politician what hissing, bilious hatred is to the conservative voter. It sustains them, and keeps the metaphorical wolves at bay.
That said, when the metaphorical wolves (self-doubt, existential crises, nagging conscience) become a bit more concrete (people who live in your city telling you to fuck off everywhere you go) the deal doesn’t seem as sweet. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s possible to yell your way into Mitch McConnell surrendering his stolen SCOTUS seat, but to suggest that consequence is not useful in guiding behavior in any way whatsoever is no less childish. How hard will spineless flesh-sacks like McConnell work to support policies that mean nothing to them outside of their ability to rally their base and trigger the libs if they know those policies will interfere with getting a good table or being able to sleep? How content will the inside-the-beltway, garden-variety GOP remain carrying Trump’s water when it’s staring down a career of public shaming and being pelted with rotten fruit?
Again, I’m not suggesting that this is anywhere close to the end-all-be-all of affecting public policy, but it is useful.