Thursday, October 30, 2008

Stop the Hate

I'm quoting my fellow blogger, D.B. Echo (at Another Monkey). It's getting really scary. I've already commented about Sarah Palin's apparent pleasure when people at her rallies scream, "Kill him!"

I got another example yesterday. I have a friend who lives in a suburb of San Francisco and has an Obama/Biden sticker on her car. The other day, she said "a couple of guys" made "ugly remarks" at her as she drove past them. Then she stopped at a light, and a well-dressed, prosperous-looking woman in a prosperous-looking car stopped next to her, rolled down the window and screamed, "Traitor!"

When did it become treason to disagree with someone? When did it become treason to want to change the government? This is what the Republican tactics of the last eight years have brought us to - they've been telling us, ever since 9/11, that anyone who disagrees with them is unpatriotic and possibly treasonous, and we must support them so we'll be "safe."

Do you all feel "safe" now? Is that why tens of thousands of people turn out to see Barack Obama and cheer for him, because they feel "safe"? I certainly don't feel safe if my neighbors feel they can scream insults at me because they disagree with me.

And the conservative commentators hammer this home on Fox News daily - Limbaugh. Hannity. O'Reilly. Coulter. In any organization, the tone comes from the top; and the top of this organization tells us that dissent is treason. The whirring sound you hear is Thomas Jefferson, spinning in his grave.

I don't claim they're treasonous (although they'd say I am). I say they're wrong; but what's really distressing is that they're so rude. Those who disagree are not merely wrong, they have to be
insulted, and assailed as stupid and treasonous. And the conservatives lie - the oft-repeated McCain claim that Obama sponsored legislation authorizing giving sex education to kindergartners is a barefaced lie, repeatedly debunked by; and yet McCain keeps saying it, and claims it's true. This is Orwellian.

When did we lose civil discourse? When did it become impossible to discuss certain issues without falling back on slogans and insults? I have to admit my generation, the Baby Boomers, carry some blame for this. We were the ones who screamed slogans at rallies and labeled anybody we disagreed with as "pigs." So, we had something to do with the demise of civil discourse. But we weren't alone.

The most important question about civil discourse is not who stopped it. It's - how do we get it back?? I hate this. I hate conflict and screaming. But if I don't scream back, I'm leaving the field to the liars.


  1. Anonymous7:57 AM

    Interesting, I am a Republican living in Oakland and purposefully do not put any type of Republican bumper stickers on my car because I am afraid it would get keyed or I would be screamed at. It works both ways. Good friends have screamed at me because I voted Republican. You are right about the demise of civil decourse, but the Republicans are not the only ones to blame.

  2. By and large, I would have to say it's the Neo-Conservative Republicans who are mostly to blame for the dumbing down in political discourse in this country.

    I think this was the result of a calculated strategy which was invented--roughly, in terms of chronology--during the run-up to Reagan's first term. For a long time, Republican strategy, say, going back to at least the early 20th Century, had been to try to appeal to the educated--or moderately educated--white middle and upper class voters. During the 1960's and early 1970's, it became apparent that this was a failing strategy. The American middle class wasn't going to buy the idea that the top 1% (and the corporations) deserved all the fruits. So it was very deliberately decided upon that the way to win elections was to appeal to the very lowest levels of class and intellectual sophistication. Demonize intellectuals, glorify the ordinary working-man (but damn the unions), inspire hatred and suspicion and naive indignation. Build constituencies among the gullible. Celebrate stupidity. Honor patriotism and selfishness and prejudice.

    These tactics worked. The Reagan Revolution signaled a vast right-wing resurgence the likes of which had never been witnessed before. It continued during the Bush I term. When Bush II was elected, it was amped up. Just one and a half generations after the disgrace of Vietnam, America repeated its arrogance by invading Iraq. All this was facilitated by a bristling new conservative media vortex, and a consolidation of available outlets. By and large, Americans don't read about or hear "news," they hear "opinion." Most news services are stripped-down, bare-bones outfits. There is almost no investigative journalism. But every one has an "opinion" and reams of it overwhelm the facts. Facts are boring.

    Last week I argued with an amateur literary critique blogger who claimed that John Ashbery, one of America's premier poets, was responsible for encouraging the degradation of political discourse, because his poems were too complicated to understand. This is bald-faced propaganda masquerading as respectable journalism. And it's exactly what the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world are practicing. During the MIddle Ages, you could destroy people by accusing them of being the servants of the devil; you could seize their property, steal their wives, their wealth, strip them of all dignity and respect. To disagree with the accusation of evil doing was tantamount to "supporting" the devil.

    Since the Enlightenment, patriotism has replaced religious devotion as the safe haven of scoundrels. When I see Bush speak in public, I invariably think to myself "don't buy what this man is selling." But it's not up to me. My countrymen were taken in. I still am astonished that they could be so gullible. It never ceases to amaze me.

  3. When Curtis attributes the "dumbing down" of political discourse to the Republican Party over the last few decades (that is, since Nixon), I agree with him, but it's not really the point I was making.

    Anonymous, if you read carefully, I don't think you'll see me attributing the destruction of civil discourse to the Republicans, although they helped. I originally decided not to put political bumper stickers on my car because of my radical left neighbors in Berkeley at the time. They had a nasty habit of "keying" the cars with bumper stickers they considered insufficiently pure, politically. They also keyed what they considered "capitalist pig cars", like BMWs and Mercedes, but I since I couldn't afford those, I only worried about the politics.

    The issue isn't, do we disagree on various issues - of course we do. The issue is, are we so sure of our intellectual correctness, and our moral rectitude, that we feel we have the right, if not the obligation, to correct publicly those heathens who disagree with us.

    I use the word "heathen" advisedly, as I think this is a form of religious intolerance.

    It isn't limited to either side, either. The anti-abortion crusader who screams "Baby murderer!" at a frightened teenager entering a Planned Parenthood office is just as much an example as the self-righteous zealot who loudly chides an unknown pregnant woman having a glass of wine with her lunch in a public restaurant. Oddly, both of them will accuse the target of harming the baby, although they probably disagree entirely on the issue of abortion.

    Human behavior ranges from absolute intolerance to absolute tolerance. Both extremes present problems; the problem of intolerance, which I believe is worse, is: who decides what shall not be tolerated? And, who said they could decide? Personally, I prefer to stay toward the tolerant side.

    I don't consider myself a Christian, but it's amazing how often in this context I find myself quoting Jesus Christ - in this case, of course, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." We cast too many stones at each other; and we don't listen enough.

  4. I regard religious intolerance as another bastion of rascality.

    It isn't difficult to understand the anti-abortion zealots. If you believe in the absolute sanctity of life, then the moment of conception carries a sacredness which it is not our right to disturb. I only wish those who take this position felt as passionate about the general quality of life (for all people) as they do about saving those fetuses. Because, for me, taking responsibility for the quality of life is really greater than privileging little specks of DNA. As it happens, I'm not a pro-abortionist, but I believe it's the right of the parents to abbreviate a pregnancy. I don't believe in the sanctity of life as applied to fetuses. Life is precious, but not that precious. Some people deserve to die; others die in acts of heroism, or in misguided devotion to losing or wrong causes.

    When the Neo-Conservative movement got going, it was easy to see that hate and intolerance were being used to demonize political positions. To speak of generalized intolerance as a negative characteristic of the political arena is a no-brainer. Historically, the Republican Party represented the rich and enfranchised against the unwashed masses. In fact, that hasn't changed much. What's changed is the growth of a cynical kind of propaganda, designed to convince people to act against their own interest, for reasons that have nothing to do with their real economic, social and environmental well-being; the use of so-called "moral" issues to stir extreme political fervor. This is all well-documented, one hardly has to be reminded.

    I think the Republican strategy has been to use issues like abortion, or Gay marriage, to create constituencies. Those voting blocs are then manipulated to augment and perpetuate the traditional privileges of the rich and big business. Most Republican lawmakers and statesmen could give a hoot about religious issues, but they're perfectly willing to use them for other ends.

    You end up with poor people going to church on Sunday and bemoaning the loss of jobs because the local factory was transferred to Mexico, with the blessing, even the encouragement, of their own leaders. Yet they still vote against their own interest, because the pastor tells them life is precious. This is a perversion of the political process.

  5. Anonymous10:47 PM

    Interesting points Curtis and ones I would have to agree with. However, we were also blessed to witness the perversion of the Democrats with their Bush-like financial efforts per the 2000 election. The party that plays to the down trodden...the minorities...managed to withdraw a grotesque sum of money from the American (and non-American) public. Those who came to the Obama rallies, those who placed hope in this candidate, are the same ones who will go home to their squalor. The faction of the hated %5 who wish to cleanse their guilt with a black president can rejoice with expensive wine in their crystal glass while the "common citizen" waits for the Obama flower to bloom. I hope the poor take great comfort that so much money was raised to get this guy his job. Talk about acting against your own interests.

    I find it funny when either party tries to demonize the other. The left is unpatriotic or immoral. The right is intolerant and racist. As accurate you may be in painting the right as using moral issues to rally the troops, let's also consider the divide and conquer tactics the left likes to use with respect to race and liberties. Let's note that those who spend time shouting over speakers on college campuses were left leaning students who did not want the words of their opponents to be heard. Or that the National Organization of Women are concerned with feminist issues primarily when they coincide with Democratic ideology. Or that the Democrats will rally for gay rights and that sexual infidelity by a President is a private matter yet become appalled by a Republican involved in a gay "situation" and question his ability to serve.

    Why can their not be civil discourse? Because there are those convinced their party will save us. There are those who are convinced their party is teflon. It is one thing to disagree with someone which you have philosophical differences. It is another to attempt dialogue with someone who so grossly misrepresents a position, builds a straw man argument (take your pick of fallacies) or ignores the "plank in his own eye" so that you're being talked at rather than spoken to.

    Both candidates, this election, ran with the same punch line at their debates while continued to note their lack of honesty. Their discourse, on the big stage, seemed civil. But they were applying for a job. Maybe civility is a commodity to be used when we want something. Maybe civility needs to be the ends rather than a means to them.