In his most recent column, Jeremi Suri notes that we have become increasingly divided because of global inequality. This polarization, Suri says, has left little space for healthy disagreement. The “incivility” he accuses of undermining democracy, however, is largely rhetoric.
Politicians use incendiary, uncivil words to appease the interests of their constituencies. But mainstream dialogue is reactive and fleeting – often rendering it ineffective. Contemporary civil rights “movements” have diffused into hashtags and clicktivism. Their words are uncivil, but the discussion is still neutered.
The incivility Suri sees is targeted. “Human rights abuses” is an uncivil phrase that has become largely empty rhetoric for the mainstream public. It conjures up images of starving children in third-world countries when these abuses are brutally present only hours away from our own University. The phrase is almost never seen in the same headlines as due process violations and police brutality in the Third Ward of Houston. The contemporary immigration debate has not made space to talk about for-profit detention centers. We are much too civil in these conversations.
Police brutality is uncivil — there is no civil fairness in a trial where the police are investigating a crime of which one of their own has been accused. Yet, two years from now, the Department of Justice report on Ferguson will fade out of the nation’s consciousness. African-Americans will continue to get jail time for late payments, while police officers are punished with misdemeanors for beating prisoners. Sexual abuse in the immigrant detention centers in San Antonio is uncivil.
Yet, with little national attention, Texas continues operating under the influence of these for-profit prisons with federal dollars, capacity quotas and heavy campaign contributions. Their stocks will continue to soar as they "cash in" on the detainment of incarcerated illegal immigrant children in South Texas. Laws that cause disproportionate burdens are uncivil. And as long as voter turnout stays low, restrictive voter ID laws could set subtle precedents for a return to poll taxing, making it more difficult for marginalized populations to vote.
This trend will continue as long as we stay "rhetorically uncivil." Our dialogue is detached and academic. It is the imperative of the conferences, symposia and panels at this University to foster depth, honesty, and controversy. Even at the expense of civility. Without recognition, there is no justice.
We are much too civil about the wrong things.
Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.