Yesterday I was drawn into an online discussion with a Libertarian who accused “the left” of being riotously uncivil; of being incapable of argument and logic and dedicated only to name-calling and innuendo. I was so incensed I had to get in there and do a little name-calling of my own! Yes indeed the left is louder and ruder and more blatantly blasphemous than I can ever recall in my lifetime, because we are mad as hell and we just can’t take it anymore.
It is not a pretty thing. But I needed to point out that this now-common warcry from the right is really really really the pot calling the kettle black. If anyone else is old enough, cast your mind back to the first time you heard such rude meanness in the media (well, except maybe for the Vidal-Buckley bruhaha in 1968 – for which they were roundly punished, BTW). For me it was “conservative” talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, and my reaction to him and the fact of people actually listening to him was a sick stomach. I was appalled, my friends were appalled, my family was appalled. Limbaugh was the top radio host in Sacramento, CA by 1984.
In 1986, the Fox Broadcasting Company opened its competing network of sensationalist reporting and the Fox News Channel followed in 1996, sporting King o’ Rudeness Bill O’Reilly and The O’Reilly Factor.
In the meantime, Jerry Springer brought voice to the least common denominator in his daytime tabloid talk show where name-calling and on-stage fights were encouraged. My face is red with shame at the eagerness with which my species devoured (and still devours) this kind of vitriolic “entertainment.” By the end of the century, the bounds of civility had been shattered.
Maybe someone with a better memory than mine can come up with an entry from the left during this period. There was of course response from skewered politicians and commentary from comedians. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert started in 1996. Stewart and Colbert are no slackers, but they are not the mud-slingers of the right, and an argument could be made that they both instead have upheld a standard of civility in their satire, that this was one of their main goals. Certainly they engaged the right in argument (sometimes directly, as Jon and Bill on many occasions) and challenged them to respond, but that response was always more character assassination, beside the point and vitriolic. No one was spewing spittle from our side of the fence.
Air America radio network specialized in progressive talk radio from March 2004 to January 2010, famously led by Al Franken and Rachel Maddox. Commentary from the left got a little sharper, but it didn’t last. Probably because it wasn’t mean enough.
The thing is, mean is not the default for most lefties. We are lefties because we want good things for everyone, because we like people and want them to succeed, because we are empathetic with our fellow men and women – we have to be driven to be mean. Not that some have not learned to compete to gain power, but the blue masses do not qualify.
Now the election of pond scum like 45 and his own incredibly ugly and mean statements have finally driven us to that place. Truthfully, we are not very good at it. This is one fight we will never win because we just don’t understand how to be so underhanded, selfish, uncaring, and ruthless. To us, that is despicable behavior and the fact that we have fallen low enough to respond in kind, however incoherently, is an eye-opening commentary on the limits of patience.
Are we mean enough yet to actually take back the polity? To restore civil discourse? To rebuild to a more inclusive society?
And if we are that mean, will we even want to any more?