Who can object?
Well, me. I can and do object.
OK, if by civil we mean everyone should try to be polite, honest, and fair, sure, I don’t object. Go for it.
If we mean we can agree to stop at red lights, and to drive on the proper side of the road, OK, great.
But why would an Abolitionist in 1850 be civil…or bipartisan?
Calls for civility in the face of white supremacy resurgent, empire unapologetic and on the march, and catastrophic capitalist environmental collapse at hand seems nuts to me.
When Trump calls for toppling the government of Venezuela, and threatens a full-scale invasion—echoes of the Monroe Doctrine and gun-boat diplomacy—and the entrenched leaders of the Democratic Party stand and applaud, it’s time for civil disobedience, not civility. It’s time to resist.
The worst of bipartisanism has always been war. Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Venezuela, Cuba—wherever the war mongers set their sights, the two greatest war parties in history, Republican and Democratic, will fall into line. They disagree in the margins—one faction may be the “bombers,” and the other the “stranglers”—but they agree in principle: the US is the “indispensable nation,” they claim, different from every other, and with special privileges and allowances. The Repulsicans and the Republicrats agree: the US can invade, conquer, and occupy at will.
“If we have to use force,” former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright famously said, “it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation.” A benign interpretation of that extravagant claim might visualize the country as a shining city on the hill, paragon of democracy and freedom; a more execrable interpretation might see the US astride the world like Colossus, holding itself exempt from international agreements like the international criminal court and the Paris climate accords, above the laws that govern others, particularly concerning the use of lethal force. Because we are the very model of virtue and righteousness, our actions are always good; because our actions are always good, we are not subject to the ordinary rules that apply to all others—we are the indispensable nation. So while Russian meddling in US elections is widely seen as outrageous (and it is), US meddling in elections from Honduras to Ukraine to Cyprus is, if we bother even to notice, not so bad. If the government of Venezuela recognized Hillary Clinton as the legitimate president of the US in 2016 it would be laughable; if the US recognizes the opposition party in Venezuela as the legitimate government, that’s the right of the powerful. The naked narcissism is breath-taking.
When Mayor Rudy Giuliani was asked if waterboarding human beings constitutes torture, he offered the American Exceptionalist response: “It depends on who does it.” That is textbook American Exceptionalism, supporting the country and offering a rigorous defense against enemies or detractors. To the American Exceptionalist, actions are held to be good in some hands, and bad in others depending solely on who commits the outrage. Torture, assassinations, bombing civilians, forced confessions, invasion and occupation, involuntary servitude, regime change, hostage-taking, imprisonment without trial—all of this and more is judged according to the American Exceptionalist by a single criteria: who did it? This clearly dulls the imagination, obscures reality, anesthetizes some people, and causes moral blindness or ethical amnesia in others.
Venezuela is the current target of US imperial designs, and we are witnessing a textbook case of the steps toward invasion. (see the brilliant Vijay Prashad: https://portside.org/2019-02-09/12-step-american-method-regime-change)
The history of US military actions is a history of conquest and genocide from the start, and chaos and catastrophe ever since: invading and occupying Vietnam and then intentionally expanding that war into neighboring Laos and Cambodia as retribution for the US defeat, a disaster that cost the lives of six thousand people every week for ten years; unleashing a massive shock-and-awe attack on Iraq in 2003 that led to the breakup of that nation and the rise of several reactionary fundamentalist and terrorist formations including ISIS; orchestrating a fifty-plus-year campaign to destabilize and topple the Cuban government; propping up nasty regimes from medieval Saudi Arabia to apartheid South Africa; overthrowing elected presidents in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973; instigating constant civil unrest in Venezuela year after year including a successful if short-lived coup in 2002; supporting the communist purge and the genocide that followed in Indonesia in the mid-1960s; participating in the murders of the African freedom fighter Patrice Lumumba in Congo in 1961, the Moroccan anti-imperialist Mehdi Ben Barka in Paris in 1965, the internationalist Che Guevara in Bolivia 1967, and the anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau in 1973; exporting billions of dollars in arms to Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and reactionary regimes and right-wing subversives the world around. As busy and ambitious as this looks, it’s only the tip of a menacing mega-iceberg, an emblematic list as opposed to an exhaustive survey.
A pervasive and frantically promoted proposition that runs loose in the land is that being a military powerhouse makes the United States (and people everywhere) safe, protects freedoms, and is a force for peace and democracy in a threatening, dangerous, and hostile world. It’s not true—not even close—but it has a huge and sticky hold on our imaginations.
When a random US politician tells antiwar protestors picketing a town hall meeting, “It’s because of the sacrifices our troops are making in [fill in the blank: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, the “Middle East,” Korea, Panama, or wherever turns out to be next] that you have the freedom to stand here and speak out,” s/he is tapping into that stuttering cliché. When a retired general speaks confidently at a televised congressional hearing, explaining to the credulous audience that the “enemy can be defeated” if only the Pentagon would be granted more funds to purchase more weapons, and then given greater leeway in their deployment and use, he’s issuing the same unexamined and banal truism. When a talking head tells us it’s unfortunate that US economic strength rides on oil, a resource that “happens to come from a couple of nasty neighborhoods,” but it’s “a blessing” we have the power to police the world, s/he’s doing the same thing. And when folks across the political spectrum express public gratitude and support for “our fighting men and women overseas,” while refusing to send their own children into those same wars or harboring serious private doubts about the wisdom, purpose, and execution of whatever US adventure is currently in play, they too are situated in that wide open field of received wisdom and diminishing options.
What if we challenged these instances of hypocrisy and defensive dogma, and insisted that there are more honest and straightforward ways to support US military men and women? What if we demanded their immediate decommission and return home, and insisted that they be provided excellent medical and psychological care, good jobs, affordable housing, and the best available educational opportunities—the things every human be- ing deserves? What if we spoke up in the face of that woolly politician and asked him to draw a straight line between free speech and the specific invasion he’s now supporting and explicitly (or at least implicitly) defending? What if we locked arms as we built a growing wave of peace advocates, anticipating and opposing the next aggression, and the next?
To hope for a world at peace and in balance, powered by love, joy, and justice, to insist that the citizens and residents of the United States become a people among people (not a superior nor a chosen people) and that the country becomes a nation among nations (not some kind of crypto-fascist übernation) is to resist the logic and the reality of war, and to see, as well, the war culture itself as a site of resistance and transformation. It’s to break with the frame that acts as if war is natural and inevitable. It’s to do the hard work of making a vibrant and robust peace movement— connecting with the environmental activists, the immigrant rights forces, the Black Lives Matter upsurge, feminists, and the queer movement—organizing to close all US military bases abroad and to bring all troops home now, leaving no US military or paid mercenaries behind; compelling our government to sign all pending international treaties on nuclear disarmament; mobilizing to cut military spending by 10 percent a year for the next ten years, dedicating the savings to education and health; rallying to suspend and then abrogate all contracts between the US government and Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.