The retired Supreme Court justice acknowledged the banquet luncheon’s standing ovation before beginning his remarks. But shouting demonstrators burst through the ballroom doors. Swinging car antennas like whips to ward off security, they jumped on the head table, kicked anything in sight, threw blood on dignitaries and lobbed a pig’s head at the former justice.
Across town soon after, a female audience member at a public Board of Education meeting disagreed with a rabbi’s testimony. She swung a glass water pitcher and opened his skull.
One of the more serious problems with America’s current fixation on instant gratification is its indulgence in instant outrage fueled by a general cultural coarsening and enabled by social media. Any one of Twitter’s 330 million users, 68 million of them in the U.S., can tap out an outburst for all to see and respond in seconds.
Hence, the almost weekly public apologies of personalities both famous and faint for crude, rude, thoughtless or worse electronic missives. All this has saturated media with a sudden summer concern about America’s awful incivility.
Pleeze! This nation’s collective memory endures less than 10 years. Most Americans weren’t born by 1969, when those two opening incidents were personally witnessed. So, they think today’s civic rudeness is unprecedented.
The contemporary hand-wringing over rude Americans being rude some more is almost laughable. Asking someone to leave an obscure restaurant over distaste for their employer pales to insignificance when compared to the national divisiveness of, say, 1964-74.
Those bitter years included urban riots, violence, bloodshed, bombings, kidnappings, shootouts and assassinations often centered on the Vietnam War or racial issues. They’re seared into the memory of today’s seniors.
Today, we have, for instance, a fading comedienne posing with a severed head of the President because – what? – she can’t think up an original joke about him? It was a cheap publicity stunt that only proves she’s never witnessed a real execution.
We have a restaurant co-owner telling a White House press secretary and her family to leave their half-finished meal not on religious grounds but because she and her employees object to her boss’ policies. “We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions,” said Stephanie Wilkinson. “This appeared to be one.”
That same night Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, was accosted as she tried to watch a documentary ironically about the friendly neighbor Mister Rogers.
We have a California congresswoman Maxine Waters hailing such shunning: “If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
This liberal disgust with a president allegedly focuses on policies now, such as separating families of illegal immigrants. And Trump’s sharp instinctive punch-backs do not calm tensions.
But the resistance’s foundation rests on the fundamental and ongoing shock of losing a 2016 presidential election leftists thought was in the bag.
A similar though weaker post-election antipathy reigned briefly after the Supreme Court’s 2000 election decision installing George W. Bush. But that soon evaporated in the unifying emotions of 9/11.
The increasing incivility or shaming fits perfectly into the bitter partisan divide that reigns nationally despite Barack Obama’s oft-repeated promises to end it.
And of course, the divide is wider and deeper during an election year when parties’ main goal is to lure voters into separate camps. At such times, every incident becomes an opportunity to divide, which explains liberals’ widespread hailing of that restaurant episode and Trumpers’ equally widespread denunciations.
Media quoted numerous “experts” worried about potential political violence. In this America? Do ya think?
As Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted: “”This, in the end, is a triumph for (Trump’s) vision of America. Now, we’re divided by red plates and blue plates.”
One leftist defense of aggressive shaming was that Trump has used tough rhetoric too against opponents, which is quite true. In Iowa, as but one example, during the 2016 campaign the future president told a large rally, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK?”
Which reminds me of a playground altercation that turned violent long before this summer’s incivility concerns. “Well,” one boy whined to the principal, “he did it too.”
That line didn’t wash in yesterday’s fourth grade. And it doesn’t wash in today’s politics.