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Former Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Dick Cheney shake hands

Former Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Dick Cheney shake hands in this file photo from 2008. (Photo: Official White House)

"Civility" Should Not Be a Priority for a Democracy Under Threat

Biden is simply hiding behind "civility" to conceal the fact that, all too often, he shared portions of the same anti-democratic agendas embraced by vile segregationists, by his "Republican friends," and by his Wall Street donors

Ernest A. Canning

As an abstract principle, civil discourse is regarded as a virtue. However, one should neither mistake a façade of respectability for civility nor be prepared to sacrifice core democratic principles to achieve civility.

It is extremely dangerous, either in the name of "civility" or "bipartisanship," to yield to those who seek nothing less than the destruction of democracy.

That point was driven home by Richard Evans in The Coming of the Third Reich when he explained how the Nazi Party, which lost the 1932 election, was able to seize and consolidate unchallenged power in 1933.

"It is in the nature of democratic institutions," Evans noted, "that they presuppose at least a minimal willingness to abide by the rules of democratic principles." But it is extremely dangerous, either in the name of "civility" or "bipartisanship," to yield to those who seek nothing less than the destruction of democracy—a point Evans drove home by quoting Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels's harsh reference to the "stupidity" of democracy. Goebbels proclaimed: "It will always remain one of democracy’s best jokes that it provided its mortal enemies with the means by which it was destroyed."

Even when offered by a renowned historian, like Christopher R. Browning, a UNC professor emeritus, there is a reflexive tendency to immediately dismiss academic comparisons between the 1932 Nazi threat to the survival of Germany's Weimar Republic and the threat Donald J. Trump and his congressional Republican enablers currently pose to democratic governance, checks and balances, and to survival the rule of law in these United States.

The error in that dismissal lies in an exclusive focus on the end-product of Nazi rule, the Holocaust. Hence, the indignant, yet erroneous criticism of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) for her accurate description of recently erected immigrant detention facilities as "concentration camps."  People lose sight of the fact that the Nazi concentration camps, which were initially erected in 1933 to house "enemies of the state," did not become "death camps" until after the 1939 outbreak of the Second World War.

The case could be made that the "grotesque and dehumanizing" conditions inside U.S. border detention facilities—not to mention the callous and cruel decision to rip children away from their parents' arms—are as abhorrent as the concentration camp conditions that existed during the first six years of Nazi rule. But the dire warnings provided by historians, like Evans and Browning, were not directed at concentration camp conditions. Instead, Browning, who described Mitch McConnell as a "gravedigger of democracy," laid out the reasons why the disciples of extreme wealth and political inequality—Donald Trump, 21st century Republicans and what Law professor Cass Sunstein referred to as the Supreme Court's "Radicals in Robes," are, in the words of the infamous Joseph Goebbels, "mortal enemies" of democracy.

At what may be our democracy's darkest hour, it is, thus, deeply disconcerting to be confronted with Joe Biden's assertion that if he replaced Trump, democracy's "mortal enemies" would experience an "epiphany" because his "Republican friends" realize that their enabling of executive lawlessness and corruption "isn't what they're supposed to be doing."   

Biden's "Republican friends," who Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) recently described as "an existential threat to American principles and institutions," have worked tirelessly over the past several decades to resurrect the same system of Jim Crow at the polls that vile racist segregationists, like Sens. James O. Eastland (D-Miss.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.), sought to preserve when they opposed the Civil and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960s.

Although conceding that Talmadge was "one of the meanest guys [he'd] every met," Biden proclaimed: "At least there was civility. We got things done."

One would like to believe Biden naively mistook the façade of respectability that Southern elites of that era—both Talmadge and Eastland were plantation owners—sought to cloak themselves in by joining all-White Citizens' Councils, as opposed to joining the terrorist KKK. The ugly reality, as noted by PBS, was that, under Eastland's leadership, the Mississippi White Citizen's Council "fostered a violent, reactionary climate where punishment against blacks was sanctioned."

Biden is simply hiding behind "civility" to conceal the fact that, all too often, he shared portions of the same anti-democratic agendas embraced by vile segregationists, by his "Republican friends," and by his Wall Street donors.

Examination of his "disastrous" legislative history, however, reveals Biden is simply hiding behind "civility" to conceal the fact that, all too often, he shared portions of the same anti-democratic agendas embraced by vile segregationists, by his "Republican friends," and by his Wall Street donors.

Biden claimed he took part in civil rights marches. He didn't. At the recent debate, Biden said, "I didn't oppose busing in America." In 1975, Biden described court-ordered busing as "asinine" and lamented that a constitutional amendment may be needed to end it. The former VP voted against two of President Jimmy Carter's African-American nominees, to the U.S. Department of Justice and for Solicitor General, because they supported busing to achieve school integration.

Biden cites civility as a means to get things done. It's the things he gets done that are the problem. He personally authored many of the major crime and "war on drugs" bills that led to mass incarceration, which now disparately impacts the poor and people of color.

At this moment, the gravest threat to the survival of our democracy arises from the symbiotic relationship between an ever-expanding economic and political inequality—an inequality so stark that President Carter lamented it has already given rise to "an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery."

Biden voted to strip away bankruptcy protections from the victims of the usurious credit card industry. He voted to repeal Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law which prevented commercial banks from participating in Wall Street's oft-fraudulent speculations. That repeal played a major role in the 2008 financial meltdown. Biden then completed the coup de grâce to Wall Street accountability by voting in favor of the massive Wall Street bailout.

If there had been any doubt that voting to nominate Joe Biden as the Democratic Party presidential nominee would be akin to helping dig our democracy's grave, those doubts were eliminated when, in responding to Bernie Sanders's direct challenge to extreme inequality and oligarchy, Biden assured his wealthy Wall Street donors that there would be no fundamental change to their obscenely lavish standards of living under a Biden presidency.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ernest A. Canning

Ernest A. Canning

Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968) and a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. He has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on Twitter: @cann4ing

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