Jacques: Is civility a lost cause?
It’s Labor Day weekend, the last hurrah of summer, so I hope you are currently on a beach with a beer in hand.
And while Twitter and politics may be far from your mind, a few events from the week are worth pondering.
Calls for civility are frequent, with various politicians and groups raising the alarm over our growing divides.
It’s hard to be against civility, right? But I wonder how many people, deep down, really want that. Some seem to revel in the division.
Take, for instance, a ridiculous social media exchange from last week that took on a life of its own.
David Karpf, an associate professor of media at George Washington University, sent out a tweet playing off news that bedbugs had infested The New York Times: “The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”
Stephens, if you don’t know, is a conservative-leaning columnist at The New York Times — and formerly of The Wall Street Journal. He’s a wonderful writer and a thoughtful observer. And although he must be used to the criticism that all opinion writers receive, he snapped at this insult.
He wrote an email to Karpf, and CC’d his boss, the provost, inviting him to come to his house and call him a bedbug to his face.
Regardless of whether Stephens handled this in the best way, the uproar his email caused is what caught my attention.
The insults and barbs against Stephens started flying, with #BretBug even trending for a while. And if you read through the comments, you’ll see these folks were having a gleeful time smearing Stephens.
And Karpf is upheld as some sort of hero — for relating another human being to an insect.
I know there is vitriol on both sides of the political aisle, but the left is adept at smugly throwing around what Carrie Lukas, president of the Independent Women’s Forum, calls “progressive privilege,” which slams the door on civility.
Bias against conservatives is seen all too often, with individuals on the right getting ostracized. This happened in Detroit, when the Women’s March held its convention here in 2017. None of the speakers remotely identified as conservative, even though the event claimed to be inclusive of all women.
Similarly, a "Take on Hate" rally Thursday at the University of Michigan-Dearborn to “address the rise of divisive rhetoric, attacks and hatred” was hosted by only Democratic members of Congress from Michigan — including Reps. Debbie Dingell, Rashida Tlaib and Brenda Lawrence.
By not including at least one Republican host, that struck me as code for an event that would call out President Donald Trump and lump in all his supporters as a major cause of the “hate” problem.
The political dynamic is such that anyone who identifies as a conservative or Republican is too quickly labeled by the left as a “racist” or “white supremacist.”
Stephens, a Never Trumper, got slapped with the “white nationalist” label after he wrote a column earlier in the summer about Democratic presidential candidates’ extreme ideas on illegal immigration and expanding government programs.
Such name calling precludes civil discourse.
Gen. Jim Mattis, former defense secretary, recently observed: “We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions.”
As tribalism, fueled by social media, trumps civility, we’ll start looking more like bedbugs to each other.