Last Friday, the staff and owner of a small restaurant in Virginia chose not to serve White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in part because of her support for the Trump administration’s policy of separating undocumented children from their parents. This has occasioned a great deal of concern among moderate, establishment figures that progressives have abandoned the concept of “civility” in political debate. One such concerned figure is CNN analyst David Gergen, a longtime Beltway type who has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Here is what Gergen said on CNN about the current state of discourse in the U.S.:
I cannot remember a time … the anti-war movement in Vietnam, the civil rights movement in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, both of those were more civil in tone—even the anti-war movement was more civil in tone, but certainly the civil rights movement, among the people who were protesting.
CNN’s social media team thought this was such a smart point that they proudly distributed the clip on Twitter on Monday:
Here are some incidents involving anti-war and civil-rights activists that I, a person with a common bachelor’s degree who is not particularly well-versed in the history of the 1960s, remembered off the top of my head (I did check some online sources for details):
• Malcolm X, after delivering a 1963 lecture called “God’s Judgment of White America,” responded to a question about the assassination of John F. Kennedy by suggesting that it pleased him because it was an example of “chickens coming home to roost”—of the U.S. receiving its comeuppance for supporting the killings of political leaders abroad.
• Protesters at Columbia University seized control of five campus buildings and took a dean hostage in 1968; approximately 1,000 police officers were called in to evict them, leading to mass chaos in which more than 700 students were arrested and 12 officers were injured.
• Later in 1968, a Catholic priest named Daniel Berrigan organized the theft of draft records from a federal office in Maryland, then set the records on fire with napalm in a parking lot as reporters watched.
There are other examples too.
Incidentally, Gergen’s first White House job was writing speeches for Richard Nixon, who remains the only American president to have resigned in disgrace after his aides hired burglars to break into the headquarters of a rival political party. Civility! I’m going to walk into the ocean.