DEAR LORD, THIS YEAR YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTOR, PATRICK SWAYZIE. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTRESS, FARAH FAWCETT. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE SINGER, MICHAEL JACKSON. I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW, MY FAVORITE PRESIDENT IS BARACK OBAMA. AMEN
Remember when this stuff wasn't OK? When it was un-American? Remember when we respected the office, if not the man? (Remember when the Dixie Chicks were crucified just for saying they were ashamed of the president?)
So what I'm trying to nail down is, what changed the dialog? What changed our words from "I think this is awful" to "EVERYONE WHO DISAGREES WITH ME IS A FACIST BABY-KILLING EVIL IDIOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!11!!!"
I think the assault on civility came from two fronts. The 24-hour news cycle brought down the walls and the Internet burned the countryside.
You see, most days, there's not quite enough news to fill out every hour of every day. Some people watched it all day, and they didn't want to see the same thing over and over, so they brought in pundits. Suddenly, the suits once relegated to Sunday mornings were left to run amok all over the ever-multiplying news channels, until you couldn't tell where news ended and punditry began. Over time, the pundits became anchors and shrieking harpies became pundits.
And then, the Internet comes along. Now anyone with a keyboard could reach an international audience in a mouse click. And they did. And here's the thing. You know how, as soon as you get behind the wheel, every other driver instantly becomes a moron, and you shout things out your window you'd never shout to anyone's face? I think it's because you can't see their face. They're cars, not people. You don't have to be polite to machines, and you forget there are humans inside of them. That's sort of how the Internet works. You don't see people when you're online, you see words on a page. And if you don't agree with those words, you can tear the speaker down in a manner you'd never use in person.
I'm just saying I miss civility. I'm saying I'd love to hear a Republican say "I think this health care bill is disastrous for the country, and here's why." I'd love to hear a democrat say "Let me explain why I think this legislation is a good thing." Instead we've become a nation of chimps and apes, futility flinging poo into the void.
Is civility dead?
Look for another post later defining the vocabulary of the debate. And perhaps one about the exclamation punctuation proliferation.
Pic from the Cleveland Zoo. Eagle is sad.