Posted by: Christine Johnson | January 11, 2011

Incivility Reigns

Older Images of Hate

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the incivility and hatred that seems to go back and forth between conservatives and liberal, Republicans and Democrats, Right and Left.  It seems to be at a fever-pitch, even coming into play after the tragic events in Tuscon last weekend.  While most people don’t involve themselves in this incivility and hatred, there were still a noisy minority who, after six people were murdered by a clearly disturbed young man who is suffering from some kind of mental breakdown, insisted that politics were to blame.  And, most specifically, politics from Republicans and the Tea Party.

Most people knew this was not so, and very few people – even on the left – believe it.  But the new media, which is touted often by the Right as a way to be heard, is not picky about who is heard.  There are some people in both new and old media who delightedly engaged in a kind of schadenfreude, pointing fingers at anyone they disagree with politically so as to lay the blame somewhere.  But the real blame isn’t someone or some political movement.  The real blame here is mental illness.  After all, even without looking at YouTube or MySpace or his raving letter, anyone can tell you that shooting a 9 year old child  isn’t a part of any sane person’s political activism.  Christina-Taylor Green did nothing except be a bright, happy child.

Why insist on fitting this into a political ideology?  George Will has an excellent column that explores one idea.  He writes:

A characteristic of many contemporary minds is susceptibility to the superstition that all behavior can be traced to some diagnosable frame of mind that is a product of promptings from the social environment. From which flows a political doctrine: Given clever social engineering, society and people can be perfected. This supposedly is the path to progress. It actually is the crux of progressivism. And it is why there is a reflex to blame conservatives first.

It Comes from Both Sides

He does say that even after JFK’s assassination, there were those who tried to pin the blame on someone from a political viewpoint.  I wasn’t around then, so I don’t know.  And maybe there was, even then, a great animosity between Left and Right, Democrats and Republicans.

In this article from 2009, Jeff Jacoby bemoaned the same things:

But in our political discourse since 2000, malice has become ubiquitous. George W. Bush’s critics endlessly compared him to Adolf Hitler. Radio host Glenn Beck mused on-air about “killing [filmmaker] Michael Moore.” Sandra Bernhard ranted that Sarah Palin was a “whore” to be “gang-raped.” Televangelist Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez. University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill characterized the 9/11 victims who died at the World Trade Center as guilty “little Eichmanns.” From Michael Savage on MSNBC urging a gay caller to “get AIDS and die, you pig,” to the banner at a San Francisco peace march proclaiming “We support our troops when they shoot their officers,” there seems to be no limit to the venom and coarseness that mark contemporary political culture.

But was it always so … mainstream? Was it constantly being fed by the news and by the leaders of the political parties?

Has there always been a tendency to make everything political?

How Could You Hate WALL-E?

I have a family member, whom I love dearly, who is very conservative.  Very loyal to the GOP, even when they go and try to be less conservative.  He believes that if the GOP is broken, it shouldn’t be thrown away, but fixed from within.  But everything he sees, he sees through the lens of his politics.  There are others in my family, people he’s related to by marriage to my cousin, who are dyed in the wool Democrats.  Really liberal.  Pro-choice, stumping for Howard Dean, moving to liberal states on purpose, the farther Left the better.  And he cannot put aside his worldview to associate with them.  At all.  He won’t see WALL-E because he heard that it’s too liberal.

And so he misses out on things – important things, fun things – in order not to have his political sensibilities offended.  It’s sad.

So maybe this forced division has been there.  But it seems so prevalent now.  So acceptable.  We’re expected to be hotly divided.  We’re expected to have problems when we go to the polls.  We’re expected to hate the other party and not let them get credit for anything good whatsoever.

WHY?  How did this become acceptable?

This is what I’ve been thinking about lately.  And I have been trying to pinpoint a time when I first saw it.  I wasn’t especially politically active until the mid-90’s.  Considering I’m only 40, I’d say that’s not bad.  I was in my early-to-mid-20’s when I started paying attention to politics.  I’d stay up to watch election returns for president, beginning with George H. W. Bush’s failed re-election campaign.

Do It Until You Get It Right!

And then came the 2000 elections.  I was living in Seminole County, Florida, at the time.  We were a very conservative county, and we watched as they counted, then recounted, then re-recounted our states ballots.  Each time, Vice President Gore would cry out That can’t be right! Do it again!

And they’d start in again, but only in certain places where it was thought more Democratic votes could be “found.”

It was a relief when the Supreme Court put a stop to that nonsense.

But I think real damage was done by that action.  The refusal to be a graceful loser, a good sport.

In that moment, Al Gore made it more acceptable to be belligerent in politics.  It became more acceptable to dig in your heels and not give an inch, even when you’re proven wrong.

Even when the people have spoken and they tell you NO.

Maybe someone else can set me right, but I see the fast decline of civility in politics of the last 10 years going back to that point in time: when the vice-president let us know by his actions that he cared more for his own power than his country.  And he was aided and abetted by the mainstream press, who told us all That’s okay.  You’re allowed to act this way.  And then they gave voice not only to Gore, but to every other person who grasped at the same idea that incivility was acceptable, if only you have good intentions.  It’s okay not to listen to others or concede that you might be wrong, just so long as you intend to do something good in the end.  Because we all know that the end justifies the means, right?

The End Justifies the Means?

But the road to Hell is paved with such intentions.  And good – real good – cannot be done through evil deeds.

Our political system might be broken right now, but it’s not irrevocably so.  We can fix it, with hard work.  We must reward those who remain civil, and push aside those who wish to allow incivility to reign.  We must elect those who listen to us, and get those who refuse to do so – even out of their ideas that they know better than we do – out of office.

But, in the meantime, we need to figure a way to keep this incivility from infecting another generation.  We need to teach people how to love and how to be humble.  Because a person with genuine humility won’t fall prey to this kind of infection.

Pray for our country and her leaders.  Pray that God will open their hearts to His message and His will.


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