The civility con

kavanaugh helller
Sen. Dean Heller and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh meet in Heller's office in July. Wikimedia Commons

Republicans have finally zeroed in on a winning message for the midterms: Civility won’t be restored to public life unless you vote for men (and they’re almost all men) who blindly support the man who obliterated it in the first place.

Let’s recap: A woman came forth with allegations of sexual assault against a Supreme Court nominee. Republicans and Democrats alike called her testimony “credible.” In response, the nominee pitched an adolescent hissy fit laced with conspiracy theories, evasions and falsehoods, demonstrating his unfitness for the court whether he assaulted anyone or not. The White House and Senate Republicans orchestrated a sham of an investigation, and the president declared the nominee “innocent” and the woman’s allegations “lies,” though the investigation reached nothing approaching either conclusion. The Senate confirmed him, even after that nominee had shown himself to be demonstrably dishonest and temperamentally disturbed. Throughout the process, people, especially women, protested.

Or as Nevada Sen. Dean Heller summed it up:

We… refused to be intimidated by smears.”

Goodness, someone fetch the smelling salts. It looks like Heller is the real victim here.

Relax. Heller never felt intimidated. Heller’s tweet, one of several lately in which he portrays Democrats, women and the Democratic woman running against him all as part of an angry, kicking, screaming, unhinged mob, has nothing to do with fret over rising “belligerence” and the erosion of civility in public life.

Heller is just parroting Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump, McConnell and Heller are convinced that portraying Democrats as an angry “mob” is the best way to energize Republicans to vote for otherwise unappealing candidates, like Heller.

“The radical Democrats have turned into an angry mob,” Trump, the standard-bearer for Republican civil discourse, said at one of his rallies the other day.

At a similar rally in Las Vegas last month, Trump displayed his customary regard for civility by referring to Heller’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, as “Wacky Jacky.” Later in that rally, he name-dropped Hillary Clinton so as to trigger chants of “lock her up,” a recurring demonstration of mob mentality without which no Trump rally would be complete.

Trump and Heller (“we started to love each other,” Trump said in Las Vegas), are pretending that the Kavanaugh confirmation process unsettled their reverence for public decorum.

McConnell, who tells Heller what to do and when — such as acting like it’s acceptable to refuse to hold a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee for 293 days — is also crying crocodile tears.

“We refuse to be intimidated by the mob,” McConnell told reporters after the Kavanaugh vote.

We refuse to be intimidated.” It turns out that McConnell, too, feels victimized.

Or so he’d like you to think. McConnell, the most cynical person in American public life and the second most reprehensible, is in fact absolutely giddy about inflicting irreparable damage to the Supreme Court’s credibility by filling an empty court seat with a Republican partisan hack. McConnell is even more elated — if that’s possible — about the possibility, indicated in some polling, that if Republicans and GOP talk radio hosts say “mob” enough times, it will enliven Republicans to get out there and vote for Heller whether they want to or not.

But McConnell is also trying hard to mask his joy. He, Trump and Heller have to at least pretend to be disturbed about the corrosive nature of public discourse. That’s how the con works.

And it is a con.

If Republicans were so concerned about civility, they had multiple opportunities to do something about it long before “Renate Alumni” and “Devil’s Triangle” became household terms.

Barack Obama’s election was followed by a rash of hate crimes against minorities. During Obama’s presidency, effigies of Obama were hung and burned. In 2010, at the height of the Tea Party movement, ten Democratic members of the U.S. House (colleagues of Heller at the time) reported threats and vandalism.

While Obama was seeking reelection in 2012, weapons worshiper Ted Nugent said if Obama won, “I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” That statement, thankfully hollow, followed Nugent’s earlier invitation for Obama to “suck on my machine gun.” Last year, in a demonstration of contemporary Republican regard for the importance of civility in public discourse, Nugent was invited to the Trump White House. Heller, who has flip-flopped on Trump even more acrobatically than he has on health care, was probably jealous.

In April 2014, radical “militia” extremists trained their weapons on federal agents during the armed standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch. Dean Heller reacted to this literally weaponized act of incivility by declaring Bundy’s supporters “patriots.”

Last year, neo-Nazis brandishing swastikas, confederate flags and tiki torches gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia for their “Unite the Right” rally. One of them killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer with his car.

Trump, in perhaps a moment that more than any other has encapsulated the true meaning of civility, Republican-style, said there were “very fine people, on both sides.”

Heller reacted by tweeting “There is no defense or justification for evil in the form of white supremacists and Nazis. None.” Which is true.

But as many noted at the time, Trump’s “both sides” signal of approval to the racist ultra-right was in fact, as Heller put it, “a defense or justification for evil in the form of white supremacists and Nazis.” Yet Heller could not bring himself to use the word “Trump” in his high-minded admonition. Perhaps Heller thought calling out Trump by name might have been, well, uncivil.

Tax cuts didn’t work for Heller. Health care was a fiasco for him. Now he hopes to be carried across the finish line by whining about a caustic political environment — while blaming, of course, anyone but his beloved Trump.

“Her words. Not mine!” Yes, Dean Heller is the real victim here.

The damage Trump has inflicted on the American psyche and national political discourse is incalculable, and perhaps irreparable. He’s a divider, not a uniter. He divides deliberately, flitting from one manufactured outrage to the next to whip up a perpetually aggrieved base which gauges a policy’s success or failure by the degree to which it upsets the other side. Republicans are calling for a return to civility while practicing the most uncivil politics since the civil rights battles of the 1960s, and while being led by the least civil and most reprehensible public figure in modern American politics.

Whatever else Heller might have been in the past, today he is first, foremost, and most importantly a Trump enabler. For such a man to feign concern over civility could be called hypocrisy, but that would be too generous.

It’s a con.

And it might work.

If it does, and if Trump’s Republicans maintain their grip on all three branches of government, the Trump era will proceed as it began — with racism, sexism, erosion of rights, relentless insults, hatred of facts, lying by default, rampant corruption, creeping authoritarianism at home, impotence abroad, and a cowardly, morally bankrupt Republican Congress that will never, ever do anything about any of it. It will be many things. It won’t be civil.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I have never heard of Hugh Jackson until I stumbled upon this piece while searching for information about deregulation of electricity. I learned one thing about him from this article, he clearly doesn’t do enough research to give an honest opinion about anything. Just wasted my time reading his crap!

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