What the President's Red Hen Tweet Reveals about Calls for Civility

The calls for civility we’ve seen pour out of conservative outlets over the past few days have been replaced by the president’s latest tweet. Once again, we see genuine Trump supporters stumped by a presidential tweet: this time, over the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia.

What is this? We are witnessing the conflation of civility with humanity. The call for civility is one-sided in the sense of an incredible double standard: Only Democrats and celebrities can be held accountable for their rude words or actions. The president, in flagrant violation of the rules of ethics, can bash a small-town American small business from a public platform—entirely exempt from the calls for civility that so many of his supporters had come out of the woodwork to proclaim just yesterday.

Calls for civility are a tool by which those in power silence the powerless.

The reign of “civility” has ensured two things during the Trump administration’s tenure: chiefly, silencing those outraged by human rights violations and diverting the narrative from the crimes being committed. We’ve seen Trump supporters employ this strategy by calling for the dismissal of Samantha Bee, by silencing NFL players who use their platform to draw attention to police brutality, and most recently, by attacking the owner of the Red Hen. They claim that celebrities and small business owners have no right to be political, but being political is hard to avoid when one’s very existence has been politicized.

These individuals calling for civility remained silent as children as young as three months were separated from their mothers at the border. They remained silent as over 2,000 children became bargaining chips for a bill including a border wall. Their silence will continue as hundreds of these children are placed into the foster care system, their parents deported without them—effectively made orphans by the U.S. government.

They direct their anger instead at the fact that these children came here without proper paperwork. They claim to be angry at the parents who risked their children’s lives through the perilous journey to the U.S. but have nothing to say for the targeted gang violence that drove them from El Salvador, as one woman held in a detention processing center in Texas told Senator Elizabeth Warren on Monday. They blame refugees for escaping life or death situations, for not leaving their children behind, and then for having their children taken from them before they can petition for asylum at the border.

No one wants to be a refugee when they grow up, but Trump supporters would have you believe that these people chose to become felons, that they are criminals, animals, the lesser. This kind of language is a far greater danger to a peaceful democracy than uncivil words. Make no mistake—America is actively witnessing the dehumanization and targeting of powerless refugees, and Trump supporters are using bogus calls for civility to silence those who would stand up for them.

It angers me that the newest target of their absurd vitriol is in the community I’ve called home for the last three years. Lexington, Virginia is home to some of the kindest and most empathetic Americans I have ever met. Vibrant communities like Lexington are exactly what make America great, and the fact that small business owners across the nation feel the need to take action says more about the state of our nation than about their own manners.

Forget civility: Now is the time to be loud, to protest openly and daily. This administration will not reconnect families and shut down its tent cities because we asked nicely. Now more than ever, concerned Americans have to roll up their sleeves and get dirty in the messy process of democracy. We must be unafraid to push forward, unapologetically stand up for the voiceless, and defend those who speak truth in the face of hateful slander and mean tweets from the president himself.

Donate to RAICES, attend a protest in your city, call your congressional representatives, and register to vote. Volunteer for a local campaign and make the November midterms the end of racist, xenophobic, and anti-humanitarian policies in our nation.

This period in our history will pass—but our actions, more than our words, will determine how it is remembered.


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