Being unable to stop Trump and Friends is bad enough. Now, Democratic Party leaders say be polite in the face of inhumanity, corruption, and treason. Be patient and vote. But Thoreau, Ghandi, and King would say that makes us ‘agents of injustice.’
The word civil was in the news a lot last month, though the only people using it were the Democrats—and the Republicans accusing Democrats of not being civil.
The cause for all the talk is last month’s “restaurant protests” and the one staged by Latino representatives in Congress. All have raised the question of whether it’s appropriate to taunt a high-ranking member of the Trump Administration when he or she is out in public.
Republicans—forgetting their own incivilities toward President Obama and Hillary Clinton—say such protests are not okay (i.e., not “politically correct”). And shockingly, Democratic leaders in Congress seem to agree.
Those leaders have harshly criticized their colleagues for supporting or engaging in small protests that involved jeering at or banishing four Republicans. Not just any Republicans, mind you. But those who created, enforce, and lie about Donald Trump’s policy of separating immigrant families.
The first “uncivil” protest occurred on Father’s Day Sunday, June 17. It was two days after Jeff Sessions cited the Bible to defend Trump’s zero-tolerance policy at the Mexican border. The mastermind of that policy—White House Adviser Stephen Miller—was dining at a Mexican (yes, Mexican) restaurant. Another patron spotted him and cried out, “Hey look guys, whoever thought we’d be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?”
That’s the rebuke in its entirety. And it’s quite tame considering an outside advisor to the White House has said Miller “actually enjoys seeing those pictures at the border.”
Monday was rough for every American of conscience. First, Vox and Pro Publica released a gut-wrenching recording of migrant children crying out for their parents. Then, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters the family separations were not the administration’s policy, but the result of legal “loopholes” only Congress could fix. She also refused to answer any questions about the tape, such as “How is this not child abuse?”
The next night, Nielsen went to dinner at—wait for it—a Mexican restaurant. Another diner spotted her and called the local Democratic Socialists of America, who organized a “rapid-response” protest. Roughly 10 to 15 people showed up and chanted, “Shame, shame, shame.” Some yelled, “If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace!” Some diners even clapped along with the protesters, whom witnesses said were nonviolent. In fact, neither Nielsen’s Secret Service agents nor the restaurant’s management felt the need to intervene.
Nielson’s dinner wasn’t the only protest on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, as Trump was leaving a meeting with Republicans, five Democrats from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus stood along his path and held up signs. California Rep. Juan Vargas shouted, “Stop separating our families,” and “Mr. President, don’t you have kids? Don’t you have kids, Mr. President?” Trump ignored them and kept walking. Vargas shouted, “We won’t go away!”
Soon after the protest, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said it was “not appropriate” to shout at Trump. Members “must uphold a level of decorum,” he said on CNN, “even though the president does not.”
Three days later, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant. The owner took her aside and explained that the restaurant upholds certain standards, such as honesty, compassion, and cooperation. Sanders left promptly, and when her dining companions started to pay, the owner said, “No. It’s on the house.”
So let’s be clear here. There were four protests, and not one of them was violent. Guns weren’t drawn, fires weren’t lit, rocks weren’t thrown, and traffic wasn’t halted. No one started a riot or looted a store or started a fight. No one was arrested. Not even with Secret Service agents on hand.
The only thing that happened was four cruel, cold-hearted people were inconvenienced.
Then came Sunday and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters. She told her supporters to hound Trump’s Cabinet members wherever they’re found. “If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. You push back on them. Tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere!”
In his tweet the next morning, Trump insulted Waters personally, calling her “an extraordinarily low IQ person.” He falsely accused her of promoting harm to his supporters. And then he threatened her, “Be careful what you wish for Max!”
At this point, one might think Democratic leaders would defend Waters and call for an apology from Trump. But instead, they threw her under the bus.
Without mentioning Waters specifically, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “In the crucial months ahead, we must strive to make America beautiful again. Trump’s daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable. As we go forward, we must conduct elections in a way that achieves unity from sea to shining sea.”
Then there’s Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Like Pelosi, he never named Waters directly, but his reference was obvious when he said, “No one should call for the harassment of political opponents. That’s not right. That’s not American.” Schumer added, “The president’s tactics and behavior should never be emulated. The best solution is to win elections.”
Now, here’s what Sarah Sanders said during her White House briefing: “Healthy debate on ideas and political philosophy is important, but the calls for harassment and push for any Trump supporter to avoid the public is unacceptable.”
The similarity in Sanders’ words and those of Hoyer, Pelosi, and Schumer should shock and offend every liberal. Confronted by the ungodly removal of children from their parents, those leaders are criticizing people for nonviolently decrying the perpetrators and proponents of inhumanity.
In short, the leaders of the Democratic Party are admonishing liberals to be nice and wait patiently until they can vote. To “work within the system”—as if protesting isn’t a cornerstone of American democracy.
In his 1849 essay, Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau maintained that American citizens have a moral and a social duty to disobey the law when the government is unjust. He reasoned that individuals should not let governments overrule or atrophy their consciences, because such acquiescence enables the government to make them agents of injustice.
Thoreau asserted that voting and petitioning for reform within the government achieves little. And he cautioned people not to wait passively for an opportunity to vote for justice—because voting for justice is as ineffective as wishing for justice.
Thoreau’s words heavily influenced the peaceful activism of Mohatmas Ghandi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Because of Thoreau’s essay, King wrote in his autobiography, “I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”
Thoreau points out clearly that civil disobedience gets its moral authority by the willingness to suffer the penalties from disobeying a law, even if you think that law is unjust.
– Michael V. Hayden, former CIA and NSA director
Reverend King believed we are “heirs of a legacy of creative protest: Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama—these are outgrowths of Thoreau’s insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice.”
The Call to Action
So here we are, fifty years after King, listening to the wails of infants being pulled from their mothers…watching shotgun appointments of extremist judges to lifelong seats in federal courts…witnessing blatant treason as Trump defends Putin before America’s intelligence agencies.
Given those shameful actions, how do we explain why droves of people chose to march instead of converging at the border and forming human blockades to protect immigrants? How do we justify honoring “the law” while courts strike down and endanger individual rights and freedoms? How can we reassure our children that they are and will be safe?
The time for being polite about our nation’s government has passed. The bad guys are winning, pillaging the country and taking hostages along the way. How far will we let them go before we collectively do the right and moral thing? When will be the best time to rise up and resist with the courage of our convictions? Can we sacrifice comfort and risk being jailed for the sake of our fellow humans, our freedoms, and our country?
It’s time for liberals to stop tiptoeing around the repulsive crud that infests Washington and beyond…time to realize the depravity won’t go away quietly. It’s time for peaceful acts of civil disobedience—not false civility.
Yes. Getting a Democratic majority in Congress is absolutely essential. But waiting for elections or court rulings to determine our destiny is preposterous. And voting in November is no excuse for sitting on the sidelines today. We are capable of resisting this evil on many levels and in many ways. We can overcome.
But we can’t live by the mantra “Don’t sink to Donald Trump’s level” (as if that were even possible). We must not accept the argument that being rude to vile people is going too far. We cannot condone a government, whether left or right, that tells us to stifle our consciences, swallow our truths, and wait for justice.
The days of wishing for justice are gone, and our consciences are still nagging. The time to act is now, before we lose the right to act at all.