The plot points of America’s downfall have been connecting with increased rapidity in recent times. Just a few days ago, blogger and owner of this site Jason Taylor’s personal contact information, home address, and phone number were exposed by an old adversary in order to invite harassment and abuse and possibly even genuine harm. In Montana, a congressman on the verge of a special election body-slammed a reporter who asked him a difficult question about a significant political issue—and won the election anyway. On Twitter, id-driven GOP pundit Kurt Schlichter went on a rampage and exposed the current state of America’s soul with the following tweet:
And just the other day, “comedian” Kathy Griffin posted a triumphant picture of herself and the bloody head of a guillotined Donald Trump.
It seems that both sides are in a rush to prove themselves the most soulless, the most lacking of decency, and in so doing become a champion to their side and rally the troops to even more violent line crossing and consequent dehumanization.
Thank you, Trump 2016 Campaign, for enabling and implicitly encouraging the worst of our instincts to rise to the surface and become our new political discourse. Mitt Romney, the most decent man in modern politics to ever run for high office, warned of exactly this in his famous speech during the primaries last year:
I understand the anger Americans feel today. In the past, our presidents have channeled that anger and forged it into resolve, into endurance and high purpose, and into the will to defeat the enemies of freedom. Our anger was transformed into energy directed for good.
Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press.
This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.
Indeed. So Romney warned, and so it is happening: Donald Trump is leading our nation straight into hell—and we are letting him.
But Trump really isn’t the only one to blame. We have been heading for this cultural collision course for some time now. The left has been culturally aggressing for decades; some of their revolutions have been good and absolutely necessary, and some, especially today, have just gone too far and they are now getting significant pushback with similarly shocking extremism from the right.
On some scale, that is okay. There have always been revolutionaries in free societies. But today, instead of filtering out the good ideas from the bad with an honest exchange of arguments and a healthy dose of good faith and a foundation of critical thinking, our loudest commentators quickly label opposing ideas with cliched pejoratives, often “racist/sexist/cis-normative” (on the left) or “fake news” (on the right).
While admittedly sometimes accurate, these terms signal to our fellow tribesmen that we don’t have to even consider the contents of an article or argument, and we circle the wagons around even the more extreme figures of “our side,” letting our souls be tarnished and muddied by them. And when we look at those with differing values, instead of empathizing and listening and learning, we instead only see enemies to be DESTROYED and arguments to be SHREDDED and ultimately villains to SMASH and leaders to RESIST.
That kind of violent rhetoric is not unconnected to America’s current state of indecency. It blurs the line between speech and violence in our minds, leading down a path where the latter becomes justified. Walter Olson writes, “Others assert that speech is violence. No. Speech is not violence. Violence is violence and speech is speech. Whether by design or not, the “speech=violence” slogan leads down a road that ends by rationalizing the use of violence against speech, since it can be framed in that case as self-defense.” This is usually a behavior of campus radicals, but the right, too, has been embracing it lately.
“F— liberals,” Schlichter writes, before tweeting a knife emoji.
Well, Kurt, I have an honest question for you and the perpetrators of hatred on both sides: just what are you going to do when you “defeat” your political enemies? Put them in subjugation? Forcibly compel them to live the way you want them to? Lock them up? Execute them?
There is no set endgame here, only a vaguely defined “victory.” Unless you either learn to peacefully co-exist with your enemies or kill them, they’re just going to resent you and that resentment will not go away: it will grow. And I don’t know how a nation whose two halves hate each other keeps the peace for very long.
Political victory is clearly not enough to stay the hand of the destroying angel that is ourselves. Progressives, did Trump’s electoral victory and your political defeat humble you and quiet your clamor?
No? I didn’t think so. Instead, it made you angrier. #TheResistance and all.
The same will go for the right the next time the left claims electoral victory. They will become angrier, and you will become angrier, and soon we’re becoming violent no matter WHO is in power and forgetting the humanity of our enemies and ourselves. Soon we’re denying them rights guaranteed by their Creator, and soon we have tyranny and mob rule. It is sad to say, but I see little immediately in the way to stop that march into blood-splashed gutters.
No—the only way to avert that path is to live in peace—and I say this to both sides. Leave each other alone. Let them live as they choose. If you want to change minds, that’s fine! That’s what politics is all about. But don’t resort to mob behavior. Reason and persuade, don’t rant and rave. And most of all, don’t think the worst of your enemy—instead, take his or her words in good faith. See your opposition as human beings with souls, people who have their reasons for thinking differently from you, and find out why. Appeal to the better angels of their nature, not their demons—or your own.
I say all this as a plea for basic human decency: think twice before you lob those verbal molotov cocktails. Because someday soon they might be real ones.