I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing about the incivility of the 2016 presidential election. And yes, it was the ugliest election in living memory. Donald Trump has bragged about assaulting women, called for his opponent’s assassination, and slandered immigrants of all origins as terrorists and rapists.
Trump ran on an “anti-PC” platform, a platform that not only excuses but encourages open expressions of sexism and racism.
In many ways, this is his greatest appeal to white American men. Not that they are downtrodden by the economy (they aren’t), but that they finally get to say out loud what until now they have only been allowed to express in dog whistles and whispers.
In Arlie Russell Hoschild’s parlance, they are reacting to a loss of honor. They have always believed these things, but they have been made to feel ashamed of their beliefs, their religion, their family values. And now here comes someone who says they don’t have to comply with the “PC police” anymore. They can be loud and proud about who they are. They can enter the realm of identity politics and claim their culture with pride.
And it’s true that they have been made to feel ashamed of their beliefs. We, the woke coastal liberals, have made them ashamed. The dominant culture in America has been shifting to one in which racism and sexism and homophobia are no longer acceptable. People who hold those beliefs should be ashamed of themselves. And the fact that they have been feeling that way is evidence that we are winning.
But these beliefs have never gone away. They have been lurking beneath the surface, never said out loud but widely acknowledged between and among those who hold them. Trump didn’t create these people — he gave them permission to come out.
And that’s why we are never going “back” to civility. We never had it to begin with.
As someone who grew up in West Texas, this is not news to me. I have been saying for years that the big ugly is out there.
Something has been brought to light in this election that is not going back behind the curtain. This rottenness in our society is something we have to deal with and address head-on, now that we know where it lives.
We’re never going “back” to civility, because civility was always an illusion.