There is an astonishing article about incivility in the New York Times by Peter Baker and Katie Rogers: In Trump’s America, the Conversation Turns Ugly and Angry, Starting at the Top. The premise is that Donald Trump is an asshole and because he’s getting away with being an asshole, he’s dragging the entire country’s political discourse down into the mud with him:
Mr. Trump’s coarse discourse increasingly seems to inspire opponents to respond with vituperative words of their own. Whether it be Robert De Niro’s four-letter condemnation at the Tony Awards or a congressional intern who shouted the same word at Mr. Trump when he visited the Capitol this week, the president has generated so much anger among his foes that some are crossing boundaries that he himself shattered long ago.
And to be clear, the Times is talking about incivility in the here and now, not over the last decade or two (or three or four):
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a decline in civility and an uptick in incivility,” said Christine Porath, a Georgetown University professor and author of “Mastering Civility,” a book on behavior in the workplace. “It seems like people are not only reciprocating, but we tend to stoop lower rather than higher. It’s really putting us in an unfortunate place.”
Ms. Porath said the current harsh climate was affecting people beyond politics, injecting itself into everyday life at home and work. “We know that incivility is contagious,” she said. “It’s like a bug or virus. It’s not only when people experience incivility, it’s when they see or read about it.”
Have you spotted the flaw in the article? It’s really easy to miss. Well, easy if you erase the last 40 years or so of undeniable incivility in right wing rhetoric.
If, on the other hand, you remember even a tiny fraction of the vile abuse the right has been engaged in nonstop since before Bill Clinton was president, you’d be forgiven for staring at Prof. Porath or the authors of the article with bug eyes and asking, “Buddy, where the fuck have you been?!”
Right wing incivility down the memory hole…
If you need a refresher on where incivility in modern American politics comes from, start with the religious right calling liberals “baby killers” and homosexuals “pedophiles”. Then we can move on to the anti-government militias that spread like wildfire during the Clinton presidency, culminating in the Oklahoma City bombing. There was plenty of incivility when they dug those dead children out of the rubble.
We can’t, of course, forget Fox News and AM Hate Radio which have been spewing hate speech at the left long before Trump came on the scene. During the heyday of the Bush administration, toxic patriotism was all the rage. The Dixie Chicks became national pariahs for daring to say they were ashamed of the president. The right flew into a rage, with death threats and language that would make a drunken sailor blush.
After Bush was gone, the right took incivility to new heights with the invention of the Tea Party by the Koch brothers. For eight years straight, the right screamed at the top of their lungs the most racist insanity they could think of. Republican candiates threatened “Second Amendment remedies”. Right wingers swore they were going to destroy the left because we were godless traitors. They foamed at the mouth because the LGBT community was winning their rights in court and damned America to hell.
Then Trump ran for office and the right fully embraced its inner white nationalist. Finally free of “political correctness”, white Republican voters started screaming racial obscenities at total strangers. Hate crimes sharply rose. Nazis literally took to the streets. Only then did the left really start getting uncivil. Nazis will fucking do that to a person.
The press is trying to evade its responsibility (again)
Baker and Rogers throw us a bone when they say that “harsh discourse” can be found throughout American history but that’s not the point they’re making with this article. They’re explicitly saying that Trump’s incivility has made “both sides” vicious and nasty. And that’s a comforting lie the press desperately needs to tell itself with increasing frequency because it absolves them of their guilt in allowing it to get this bad in the first place.
For the last 40 years or so, the press has been terrified of calling out the right’s escalating awfulness. Even as we on the left have been screaming at the top of lungs that the right was spinning out of control, the press told us to shut the fuck up and sit down. The mildest protests of the left were given equal or more condemnation than the worst abuses of the right. Every one of our lies was worse than 100 of theirs. A blow job in the Oval Office was grounds for impeachment but lying America into a war was permissible.
But if “both sides” are now just as vulgar and hostile? Well, the press can’t be to blame for that, can it? They can just sit back and lament the growing incivility and never have to answer for their role in bringing America to the brink of collapse. Instead, they can play the neutral moral scold and wag a finger at everyone.
Meanwhile, the soulless monsters who have made hate and rage and greed and suffering into a political platform are rewarded for being as horrible as possible. When both sides are treated as equally at fault no matter how much worse one side is, the incentive to behave with any kind of decency disappears and only the perverse incentive to be as cruel and vicious as possible remains. And that is exactly the dynamic we see in play today.
The press hasn’t learned a damn thing
This article is not an admonishment for America to be better; it’s a signal to the right that what they’re doing is working and to keep it up. After all, as long as they do, the press will keep rewarding them by pretending “both sides” are at fault and never holding the accountable for their decades of incivility.
No wonder the left is becoming “uncivil”. I’m pretty tired of this bullshit double standard where I’m being lumped together with fucking Nazis. Aren’t you?
I’m a stay at home dad, father to a special needs son and a special daughter, a donor baby daddy, a militantly pragmatic liberal, the president of the PTA, a hardcore geek and nerd and I’m going to change the world. Or at least my corner of it.