Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) has become synonymous with disaster and neglect. He presided over the Flint water crisis, endangered thousands of people, and is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. But none of this deterred Harvard’s Kennedy School from announcing he would be granted a year-long paid fellowship, with Taubman Center for State and Local Government director Jeffrey Liebman touting his “expertise in management, public policy, and promoting civility.”
It is this last supposed skill of Snyder’s — “promoting civility” — that drew scorn from New York Magazine’s Zak Cheney-Rice.
“Snyder was responsible for appointing the head of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, who ensures water safety statewide, and the emergency manager who oversaw the city when Flint’s water source was switched in 2014,” write Cheney-Rice. “The former governor also appears to have lied about when he first became aware that Flint’s water was unsafe. His administration did not implement emergency procedures until months after they knew about the crisis, while officials continued to insist that the water was safe despite its foul odor, rust color, and the fact that it was causing hair loss and rashes in people who bathed in it.”
Apparently, none of this is matters because Snyder firmly believes in people with differing political views getting along.
“It would be notable if Harvard was merely overlooking Snyder’s fatal neglect in Flint, but to do so while touting what he can teach the Harvard community about civility seems especially perverse,” wrote Cheney-Rice. “Calls for ‘civility’ have been invoked to shield or justify a laundry list of atrocities in the past year.”
“Civility, according to its most vocal proponents, was why former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen should be allowed to dine publicly without interruption, despite separating immigrant children from their families and locking them in cages,” wrote Cheney-Rice. “Civility is why Representative Dan Crenshaw could initiate an Islamophobic smear campaign against his colleague Ilhan Omar, then get defended by his Republican compatriots when he faced criticism, because they felt he was the one being treated uncivilly. Civility is how Joe Biden rationalizes his past working partnerships with segregationists like James O. Eastland and Herman Talmadge, which he bragged about last week.”
“In these and related cases, the lack of tension that civility connotes has come to be viewed as its own desirable end,” Cheney-Rice continued. “No matter who is damaged or to what extent, the responsible party resorts to demanding that everyone else remain civil in their response. This might be laudable were it aimed at just solutions, but more often than not, it is geared toward pacifying backlash and ensuring those who inflict the damage are let off the hook, while maintaining the pretense that their opponents are in the wrong. It smooths discourse while failing to solve conflict, in part because that conflict has been successfully reframed as a matter of the victims’ civility.”
“In this light, Snyder’s Harvard fellowship may have already taught its most valuable lesson about civility — as it is commonly deployed — without Snyder delivering a single lecture,” concluded Cheney-Rice. “It suggests that poisoned people in Flint are not worth disrupting the outward normalcy of government figures transitioning from lives of administrative neglect and violence to ones of cushy fellowships and platforms at elite institutions … That Harvard has embraced him anyway is indeed instructive. It just isn’t a lesson that anyone should be comfortable absorbing.”