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If you’d held out any hope that civility could make a comeback in 2020, things aren’t looking great. 

On the first day of the year, Pope Francis became the target of the outrage machine.

As he made his way through St. Peter’s Square on New Year’s Eve, he greeted the faithful. One woman grabbed the pope’s hand as he walked by, and yanked him toward her. The 83-year-old pontiff did not appreciate this, and slapped the woman’s hand to free himself. 

It wasn’t a big deal. Yet the incident, caught on video, quickly became the slap heard (and seen) round the world. Francis apologized during his New Year’s Day speech, saying he should have reacted with more patience.

That wasn't enough to appease critics, apparently. Following the pope’s address, which happened to be about protecting women from harm, media and others chimed in. 

“Pope Francis has used his New Year message to denounce violence against women, hours after slapping a woman's hand to free himself from her grip,” CNN tweeted, alluding the pope himself was culpable.

The uproar over the slap is just one example of the prevalence of “cancel culture.” The pope isn’t likely to get “canceled,” but there's no doubt some will try to use this one incident to undermine the good he has done.

That is at the heart of this knee-jerk, social media-fueled phenomenon.

Examples are prevalent. Shortly before Christmas, J.K. Rowling — the renowned “Harry Potter” author — inserted herself into a controversy over the meaning of “sex,” and the Twitterverse pounced. 

Rowling defended Maya Forstater, a tax researcher who got fired from a London think tank for stating that sex is a biological fact and immutable. Forstater challenged her firing, but a judge ruled against her last month. 

That’s when Rowling tweeted: “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya” 

Progressives from around the world expressed shock that the British author could be so cruel and transphobic. They also predicted Rowling had cast a spell of doom over her creative endeavors — and that they should be eschewed. 

Rowling hasn’t apologized, nor has she taken down her comment. 

Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres found herself on the wrong side of the social media mob in October, after a photo circulated of her and former President George W. Bush joshing around at a football game. Her fans on the left couldn’t believe she’d even associate with the likes of such a Republican. 

DeGeneres also chose not to grovel. Rather, she defended her friendship with Bush and her commitment to being kind to everyone — even those with whom she may disagree. 

Cancel culture doesn’t care about kindness or forgiveness — or simply giving someone the benefit of the doubt. It seeks to erase all views that are deemed contrary to politically correct standards, as well as those who hold them.

Some of these efforts to silence the offensive are effective. Some aren’t. 

Regardless, it’s revealing how intolerant people can be, often in the name of tolerance.

ijacques@detroitnews.com 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

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