Civility as Political Vice

Last week, Rubio went on national television to explain to survivors of a mass shooting, as well as the friends and families of the slain, why Congress shouldn't legislate a ban on the type of weapon used to destroy their lives, as well as why he wouldn't reject donations from the most aggressive gun lobby in the nation. The issue of mass gun violence was not proposed to these people by some debate moderator standing at the lectern. It exploded into their lives, leaving an immediate need for the sort of engagement that Rubio, who was elected to represent them in the Senate, has frankly refused to provide. To turn around now and suggest that the tone and tenor of their opposition -- as well as that of the ever-growing number of Americans affected by gun violence -- is merely the result of a broader partisan animus mysteriously affecting the entire country must strike them as deep insulting.

Not long before the US elected a President who routinely assigns playground epithets to his political opponents, not to mention entire countries, public discourse turned briefly to a discussion of the value of civility as a political virtue. There were op-eds and books -- even, rather late to the game, a newly minted Supreme Court Justice lecturing about civility from inside a Trump Hotel. Rubio's tweet is a demonstration of how bad faith actors sometimes invoke civility in order to reduce very raw and urgent grievances to abstractions suitable for the sort of polite debate exercise where nothing changes because no one feels that anything is really at stake.