How did you celebrate National Day of Civility on Thursday? Did you reel in that finger when that car cut you off and just gave a polite shrug instead?

Maybe you took a big breath walking behind that group of people spanning the entire footpath rather than shoving past them.

Or when your slightly racist relatives started spouting off you just stayed silent. Politics is polarising more than ever.


Brother is defriending sister on Facebook. Father is grounding daughter for her wayward political views. Can't we all just get along?

Last year in the United States some congressmen proposed National Day of Civility. They proposed it because they felt like the discourse was getting nasty. The public was getting angry.

The date of National Day of Civility is July 12. This is deliberate because, and I am not even kidding, it's based on the biblical verse Matthew 7:12, which is the ol' "do unto others as you'd have them do unto you" part that we know as the golden rule.

Except the two politicians who proposed it aren't really looking for some reflective untoing. What they really want is for you to stop being argumentative with them. Civility is not a call for us all to be nicer to each other, it's a call for us to be placid. It's a form of silencing those the powerful do not wish to hear from.

"When they go low, we go high" said Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

"Yes!" the Democrats and most of civil society all fist-pumped.

"Let those awful fear-mongering Republicans with their awful Donald Trump go low and be awful and racist and sexist and ableist, we will retain our dignity and fight the good fight in a nice way. We will take the high road. The voters will reward our good behaviour." And so the voters elected a Republican Senate, House of Representatives and Donald Trump.

We may have got that one wrong.


Because if you go high, that's fine, but it only works if the other side is also going high. When someone figures out you're going high and they're prepared to go low, it's a very winning strategy. And if your next move is to go even higher, they'll just go lower and find it easier to slime under you.

When Barack Obama named Merrick Garland as his choice for the Supreme Court, the Republican-controlled Senate just flat out refused to hear the case for him. Just said "nah". This flew in the face of every convention, every precedent, every nicety the Supreme Court appointment process had been through.

Legal scholars, judges and politicians said - politely - that this was wrong and an abuse of process. All of which resulted in a vacant Supreme Court seat for more than a year until Trump was elected and he put up arch-conservative Neil Gorsuch, who got the approval.

Because that's the thing with civility, it's a covert way to entrench power. As I said above, it's a way to silence those who are only just finding their voice. It's people who are more focused on keeping it polite than making it fair.

The call for civility is a call for no consequences to crappy actions. Because the absence of a fight does not mean it is a good thing. The absence of a fight is not just. The absence of a fight is a retention of a way of life that benefits the few.

Those few do not want women making noise and arguing for their right to self-determination over their own bodies.


They don't want black people marching in the street for equal treatment from police. They don't want the poor to scream in pain when they've been screaming in silence for so long. They want to keep the status quo.

They would very much like it if you could go high so that they can continue to go low and keep their power.

And it sounds so good doesn't it? The politics of civility. Being kind. Not complaining too loudly. Not fighting for what you believe in. Just giving in to what's put in front of you.

Bringing peace with honour. Peace for our time. Surrender.

David Cormack is the co-founder of communications and PR firm, Draper Cormack Group. He has worked for the Labour Party, the Green Party and for National.