Whoa. Let’s slow down. Take a chill pill. Breathe deeply.
I write this column every other week. And since my last column, it seems like the lid of national civility has blown off. Let’s review the events that happened in less than two weeks that seem to make us think we can abuse one another in record voices and volumes online, on TV and in the media: Super Bowl’s half time show, the Democratic Iowa Caucus, Rush Limbaugh’s lung cancer diagnosis, the State of the Union address and Trump’s impeachment acquittal. If hateful rhetoric and vicious words could be cashed out, we’d all be living like kings.
We have some soul searching questions to ask ourselves. Like, is there ever a good reason to celebrate the announcement of a person’s likely fatal diagnosis? Yes, Mr. Limbaugh has a slew of enemies. But who is the better person at the moment of revelation: the one who pushes the pause button on their personal emotions to consider what he’s going through? Or the one who rushes in like a hyena to chomp and chew as he goes down?
The Super Bowl halftime show certainly generated hostile chatter. A conversation between two moms blew up in just two online posts as the first mom gushed that her young daughters were inspired by the dancers’ gyrations on TV. An opponent shot back, “Yeah, well, how were your sons in the room being inspired?” It went rapidly downhill from there, with insinuations that someone wasn’t in touch with her sexuality countered with what kind of a mom says to her daughter, “I hope you grow up to be a pole-dancing stripper for millions.” Multiply that by thousands and there’s a lot of spiteful rancor bouncing around in the air.
The Iowa Caucus offered a fertile seedbed for chortles, the most repeated one being, “Why would we trust national health care to a party that can’t a run a state caucus?” Political enemies had a heyday with it, again attacking while their enemies were down.
And then came the State of the Union address. Trump’s infuriating speech followed by Pelosi’s paper-tearing tantrum obliterated every other statement—for or against. While most folks will forget much of everything said that night, they won’t forget what they saw, underscoring the truth that one bad decision can wipe out years of work. She will likely be remembered for that more than anything else—and it’s not a respectful memory.
Finally, Trump’s impeachment acquittal. The culmination of rhetoric and cringeworthy moments, posturing and spectacle on both sides finally ended. It was yet another generator of enormous amounts of rancorous chatter, including the side story of Mitt Romney’s choice to vote against which dragged Utah into a front seat in that bitter exchange.
And so now here we are, with multiple dents from multiple events, world weary and wondering what’s next. What we need is a common enemy. When the Twin Towers went down in 2001, all the screeching and shouting stopped. Immediately. A dangerous outside force got inside, and suddenly we were afraid. We looked at each other and realized we’re all we’ve got. The bickering halted, our flags went up, our national pride surged, our patriotism increased and for a short season, we literally were the UNITED States of America.
But when we no longer see or feel a common enemy, we tend to turn on each other. If we want civil unity back, it’s time to dust off the rules of engagement—the first one being something our mothers taught us: If we can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Choose words with our minds, not our emotions. Very few words blurted out in anger leave a good impression. A snappy, badly worded response might win the prize for quickest comeback, but will lack sustainable impact.
Profanity reflects a weak vocabulary, a “filler” for more accurate words.
Insincere apologies are more dangerous than no apology at all.
A disrespectful act never earns respect.
Do not take offense where no offense is intended.
Attack the problem, not the person.
And finally, remember we really can disagree without being disagreeable.
Let’s BE the United States of America.