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Sanders on civil discourse and calling a liar a liar

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In his response to the WaPo article discussed here yesterday, Sen. Sanders deftly disassembles the idea that civil discourse means saying nothing at all if one can’t say something nice.

We face a very serious political problem in this country, and that problem is manifested in a post written yesterday by Amber Phillips of The Washington Post. In her piece, Phillips criticizes me for lowering the state of our political discourse, because I accused the president of being a “liar.”

What should a United States senator, or any citizen, do if the president is a liar? Does ignoring this reality benefit the American people? Do we make a bad situation worse by disrespecting the president of the United States? Or do we have an obligation to say that he is a liar to protect America’s standing in the world and people’s trust in our institutions?

The call to remain civil – or at least silent – in response to people who are being uncivil is hardly new. Members of marginalized groups are regularly shushed, told to tone it down, exhorted to consider how they will be perceived by the Fencesitting Chappaquiddickians and even the people who are marginalizing them in the first place.

But articles like Phillips’ indicate that these defenders of civility will tell anyone to be quiet no matter who they are or what they’re doing. They just want everyone to show due deference to the most powerful person in the room. If that person happens to be an orange white supremacist who often repeats lies created by or popular with white supremacists, it’s somehow not fair to say that person is a liar. It has always been ridiculous and dangerous.

Sanders’ response is worth reading in its entirety. He posts the Tweets Phillips took issue with in her article, explains them and wraps up with a question elected officials, members of the press need to answer.

But how do we deal with a president who makes statements that reverberate around our country and the world that are not based on fact or evidence? What is the appropriate way to respond to that? And if the media and political leaders fail to call lies what they are, are they then guilty of misleading the public?

(Hint: Yes.)

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