Over the past week or so, the call for civility has been louder than ever. I’m not sure if this call will be sustained, nor is it clear if it will be heeded. Sadly, civility is a rare thing these days. I wonder if it’s approaching extinction.
1. A deranged shooter kills 6 people and wounds more, including an Arizona lawmaker. Within 2 hours, the blogosphere is going crazy: One one side, Sarah Palin-haters are drawing a connection between the shooter and the Tea Party icon, based on Palin’s speeches and an unfortunately ill-conceived graphic which featured gun sites on the Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. Bloggers say that Palin’s combative rhetoric and us-vs-them mentality have set the tone.
2. Many folks argue back and say that the bloggers are looking for a connection that doesn’t exist, and they do so because they, in fact, are caught up in us-vs-them mindsets, that they are taking advantage of a tragedy to cast aspersion on a woman they have grown to loathe.
3. Both of the groups in #1 and #2 above point out that each other’s side has spokespersons who engage in vitriol: Beck, O’Reilly, Rush, Coulter on one side, and Dowd, Maher, and Olbermann on the other.
At the same time this is going on:
4.The stories in the days leading up to the NFL playoff game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets focus on the trash-talking, which has reached some new lows, including references to a coach’s sex life with his wife.
5. The publication of a new version of Mark Twain’s classic “Huckleberry Finn” is announced. This one will have all 219 occurrences of the N-word replaced by the less-offensive “slave”. Modern hateful rhetoric is so pervasive these days that sensitivity regarding inflammatory speech has crossed some lines into the bizarre.
6. My Facebook friend Susan Isaacs alerted me to the Civility Project, which consisted of a simple pledge for political leaders to debate respectfully. Mark DeMoss, a Republican evangelical Christian, asked members of Congress to sign the pledge. Not only was he unsuccessful, he was berated by several conservatives.
7. In many cases, disagreement is not simply disagreement. It’s equated with an emotional failing. If you voted against gay marriage, you clearly hate gay people. If you are against the death penalty, you are a spineless bleeding-heart. Dare to be for Obamacare? You’re clearly a Marxist. Are you an NRA member? Then you are an ignorant redneck. According to the rules of modern political discourse one cannot simply arrive reasonably and thoughtfully at a position on gay marriage, the new healthcare plan, or other important topics. Disagreement with me on anything is evidence that you have a wire loose.
8. People still watch Jerry Springer, hoping a fight will break out.
While all the above are disturbing and saddening, perhaps that last one holds the key. Maybe the fact that so many of us enjoy, or at least will may attention to, the loudest, most argumentative, and least civil voices out there is the reason that it won’t go away. What will it take to get this situation right again? Change the hearts of the masses of people who give O’Reilly and Maher their massive ratings? How in the world do we change that many hearts?