|Civility and Politics
- Kathleen Chandler* -
In the aftermath of the Arizona shooting, where six people were killed and thirteen injured, including Tucson representative Gabrielle Giffords, there have been numerous calls for more civility in the political discourse of the country.
Forces from the left and right have blamed each other, with the lack of civility getting blamed for the shooting, or it is said that it contributed to the violence. The Republicans in control of the House postponed a vote on repealing the healthcare law, anticipating an "uncivil" debate. President Barack Obama, speaking at the memorial service in Arizona said, "Let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make [those killed] proud."
One way or another, the tone of American politics is a main topic of discussion.
The entire discourse is diversionary because what political discourse are we talking about? Both at home and abroad, violence has become the weapon of choice to deal with economic, political, social and cultural problems. Carrying out regime change, the drone massacres of civilians and targeted assassinations are not examples of sorting out problems on the basis of civil political discourse. Political solutions are necessary for there to be civility.
Will more civil discourse change the fact that in Arizona the violence of the border death wall is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of workers, women and children, of killings of unarmed civilians by the Border Patrol, all backed up by 1200 National Guards? Violence, not politics, is the weapon of choice.
The discourse about the need for civility is part of the disinformation of those in power and their monopoly media. It serves to divert attention from the fact that violence has become the weapon of choice to deal with economic, political, social and cultural problems and to eliminate discourse. It blocks the necessity for political discourse by the people themselves for purposes of defending their interests. Instead, the diversion of more civility is promoted. The working class and people are supposed to line themselves up pro or con civility or pro or con the Tea Party and/or Obama. All of this conceals the substance of the contradictions within the U.S. ruling circles and the serious danger of civil war. So long as violence is the weapon of choice of both sides and there is an absence of the independent politics of the working class, no prospects are provided for averting this danger.
Political solutions, political discourse, even the meaning of the word politics are all eliminated. The working people are left with the impression that politics are conducted with the violent, racist language of those in power, with something that we are better off without.
Politics is the plural of the word politic and it refers to the activities going on in the body politic. Body politic is the name given to the modern political society in which everyone has the right to participate in taking the decisions that affect their lives.
The nature of the body politic is governed by the nature of the political process. In the U.S., the modern body politic came into being as the rule of white men of property. This was the rule of propertied interests with the state as their instrument. For the rulers, the civil war was fought between those who wanted to remain slave-owners and those who wanted the economy to be based on wage-slavery instead. Today, the ruling elite continues to fight over the direction of the U.S. and the political process remains in their hands. It resorts to violence, including assassinations and threats of assassination, to sort out the contradictions in its own ranks. This is a civil war scenario within the ranks of the ruling class. It is also to prohibit the creation of public opinion -- the scenario of civil death for all those Americans who refuse to swear allegiance to what are called American values. Its aim is to prohibit the creation of the people's political movement for empowerment.
Within this, the role of the president is to unite America and avert civil war, which is why Obama keeps quoting Lincoln. But so long as violence is also his weapon of choice, the choice is not between Obama and the Tea Party or the Democrats and Republicans. All these factions of the ruling class ensure a process where one or the other war party, or both, remain in power and the people remain out of power.
The choice is between all that is old, including factional civil war politics and the interests of the elites which continue to hold privilege and power, and the new which must be based on anti-imperialism and the rejection of the use of force to sort out economic, political, social and cultural problems both at home and abroad.
The U.S. ruling class wages class struggle to preserve its imperialist system and class rule while ensuring the working class does not wage class struggle in its own interests. The discourse, which claims that the problem in the U.S is to change the tone of political discourse, is a diversion to keep the working class from intervening in the political arena in a manner that favors its own interests and those of the American people and the peoples of the world. It is a means to eliminate politics in the interests of the working class and peoples of the world.
This is a very serious problem. More civility in the realm of the politics of the ruling elite will not resolve the contradictions within its ranks. It is beyond their reach because they are no longer interested in a civil society and the renewal of political mechanisms to resolve disputes calmly.
The solution can be found in stepping up the work for politics of empowerment -- for a political process that empowers the people themselves to govern and decide. A new and modern democracy of our own making is needed. What will it look like? How will it be constituted so as to provide for the rights of all, including the right to govern and decide? Waging the struggle for political empowerment of the people, including focusing political discourse on this necessity, is the way forward.
* Kathleen Chandler is General Secretary of the U.S. Marxist-Leninist Organization.