Going High Didn't Win an Election and It Won't Make America Great

Photo by Marco Torres
Piñatas are cool, but public shaming is even better.
Thing about rules is that they only work if everyone agrees to abide by them. You sit down to play Scrabble with the assumption that the people you’re playing against aren’t going to cheat to get better tiles for higher scores. You step onto a baseball diamond assuming that the opposing team is playing with the proper equipment. You jump into the pool believing that no one is going to urinate in it.

Except that we all know that there are people in this world who won’t follow the rules. They’ll peek into the bag while grabbing a tile. They’ll use a corked bat or put something illegal on the ball. They’ll pee in the pool.

Now yes, there are consequences for bad behavior, if someone gets caught. But what are you to do when someone isn’t playing by the unwritten rules, the ones we assume that all well-meaning, rational individuals are living under?

There’s been a lot of talk over the last week about civility. People in positions of power are scared to the point of embarrassment that other people in power have been driven from restaurants and movie theaters because of their beliefs. They believe this anti-civility is bad for our country, and not representative of who we should strive to be.

Normally, this is when I would tell you that these people, while misguided, are well-meaning, high-minded individuals who think the only path to a better tomorrow is through finding ground with those who disagree with them. But we aren’t living under the old normal, these people aren’t well-meaning, and their arguments are complete bullshit.

I get it. When Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high,” it made those on the left feel good about themselves. Not only did they have the right idea on how this country should grow, but they had the moral high ground as well. And those with the moral high ground always come out on top.

Except when they don’t. The right went low, and the right won big. And ever since then those who oppose the right have been fighting off their back foot, getting pushed around by a man who, despite what the shirts his supporters wear claim, cares very much about your feelings. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t try to hurt them so often.

And this is where we are today: the party in power is using legal kidnapping to fight a border crisis that doesn’t exist, and the other major party in our democracy wants those dedicated to ripping families apart to be able to have a quiet night out on the town.

"The party in power is using legal kidnapping to fight a border crisis that doesn’t exist, and the other major party in our democracy wants those dedicated to ripping families apart to be able to have a quiet night out on the town."

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But they don’t feel this way because they care about the American Experiment. They care because they worry that one day they’ll get asked to leave a restaurant or a movie theater. They’ve got good lives, rich lives, and no person with a good and rich life deserves to be treated the way that minorities, be it racial, sexual, or religious, get treated in our society. They would rather stand with those that would put children in cages because they know they’ll never be put in a cage themselves.

But what they miss is that the rules have changed. No, it’s not that we used to live in a more civil society, it’s that the people who broke the rules of civility were better at hiding it. They’d say the nasty things about people they hated behind closed doors, and if they wanted to say them out loud they’d find a proper patsy to do it for them.

But we live in a world where the President of the United States of America regularly insults citizens of his country. Where his Press Secretary uses an official government social media account to call out the restaurant that asked her to leave, even though she’s part of an administration that thinks businesses should be able to discriminate on the basis of who someone chooses to love.

And you’ll say, “yeah, looks at these hypocrites!” But that’s the point. That’s been the point all along. If you want to fight, if you really want to resist, you have to stop acting like you’re fighting a fair fight, because the other side stopped fighting fair a long time ago. And if you think that the path to making America great is through being nice while you’re regularly insulted, the good news is that your life will probably be fine. You’re likely rich, likely white, and as previously stated, likely to never end up in a cage. But there are a lot of people out there that aren’t that lucky. And they’ve known what has always been true: it’s never a fair fight when one side wants you dead.

Civility is dead. It could never survive in the age of the internet, and it's foolish to pretend that it still does. The powers that be in the Democratic Party are going to continue to ask you to go high because going high doesn’t hurt their bottom line.

But how valuable is a moral victory when people still end up in cages?