Category Archives: Civility

Yes, we do have a ‘scorn problem’…

Thought I’d share this op-ed piece I found in the NYT this morning.

It’s pretty much dead-on in describing the problem, as I frequently try to point out here on the blog. I also try to address the problem by providing a civil forum for discussion — a project that is, at best, a work in progress. Ahem…

Anyway, the headline is “America Has a Scorn Problem.” Here’s an excerpt:

A Scientific American report on political polarization noted that Americans increasingly hold “a basic abhorrence for their opponents — an ‘othering’ in which a group conceives of its rivals as wholly alien in every way.” It continues, “This toxic form of polarization has fundamentally altered political discourse, public civility and even the way politicians govern.” A 2019 study by Pew said, “55 percent of Republicans say Democrats are ‘more immoral’ when compared with other Americans; 47 percent of Democrats say the same about Republicans.”

We find one another repugnant — not just wrong but bad. Our rhetoric casts the arguments of others as profound moral failings….

Please read it, and discuss. With a minimum of scorn, if you can manage that… (Oops; was I being a little scornful there myself? I hope not, because I’m very concerned, and discouraged, about the problem…)

The lady writes from a religious, clerical perspective (starting with a parable from the Gospel of Luke). I do that sometimes myself. Although I don’t think you have to be a believer to act like a grownup in dealing with other people. For that matter, I’d really like to see some of our “Christian” brethren learn to get along better, with each other as well as others.

Anyway, seems to me she’s with Jesus on this point. And I’m with both of them. At least, I try to be…

So you’re saying it’s the Raskolnikov Syndrome? Maybe, but that doesn’t explain 2016

Georgy Taratorkin as Raskolnikov in a 1969 Russian film adaptation.

As you know, people have been bat-poop crazy lately. We’ve discussed this a good bit.

It’s complicated by the fact that we’re looking at two separate developments, and sort of running them together.

I’ve been searching ever since 2016, trying to understand how this country elected — to the presidency — someone who at any previous time in our nation’s history would have been laughed off the stage the first time he stood up and said “I’m running.” A guy who had been known as a famous doofus since the ’80s. Elected to be the most powerful person on the planet.

I still haven’t arrived, although I did feel I got a lot closer to the answer when I heard that “Rabbit Hole” podcast.

Over the last year or two — starting in 2020, the year we (at least for a little while), corrected the 2016 insanity — we’ve been talking a lot about something else, which is the deleterious effect of the pandemic on human behavior.

I just read another good, thoughtful piece on that in The Atlantic: “Why People Are Acting So Weird.” It begins:

Everyone is acting so weird! The most obvious recent weirdness was when Will Smith smacked Chris Rock at the Oscars. But if you look closely, people have been behaving badly on smaller stages for months now. Last week, a man was arrested after he punched a gate agent at the Atlanta airport. (The gate agent looked like he was about to punch back, until his female colleague, bless her soul, stood on some chairs and said “no” to the entire situation.) That wasn’t even the only viral asshole-on-a-plane video that week.

In February, people found ways to throw tantrums while skiing—skiing. In one viral video, a man slid around the chairlift-boarding area of a Canadian resort, one foot strapped into his snowboard as he flailed at security guards and refused to comply with a mask mandate. Separate footage shows a maskless man on a ski shuttle screaming, “There’s nobody wearing masks on any bus in this goddamn town!” before calling his fellow passenger a “liberal piece of shit” and storming off.

During the pandemic, disorderly, rude, and unhinged conduct seems to have caught on as much as bread baking and Bridgerton. Bad behavior of all kinds —everything from rudeness and carelessness to physical violence—has increased…

You see what happened there? As you will find if you read on, most of the piece is a discussion of what’s happened “during the pandemic.” But the political problem that predates the pandemic by four years comes up as well: “…before calling his fellow passenger a ‘liberal piece of shit’ and storming off.” Do you wonder who that guy voted for? I don’t. I mean, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I know.

So yeah, behavior has been pretty bad during COVID, but that doesn’t explain 2016.

However, I did pick up something interesting that I hadn’t though of before, in terms of explaining the pandemic craziness, and that’s why I’m posting this. It comes up here:

We’re social beings, and isolation is changing us

The pandemic loosened ties between people: Kids stopped going to school; their parents stopped going to work; parishioners stopped going to church; people stopped gathering, in general. Sociologists think all of this isolation shifted the way we behave. “We’re more likely to break rules when our bonds to society are weakened,” Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist who studies social disorder, told me. “When we become untethered, we tend to prioritize our own private interests over those of others or the public.”

The turn-of-the-20th-century scholar Émile Durkheim called this state anomie, or a lack of social norms that leads to lawlessness. “We are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings,” Durkheim wrote. In the past two years, we have stopped being social, and in many cases we have stopped being moral, too….

Though it’s been a lifesaving tool throughout the pandemic, mask wearing has likely made this problem worse. Just as it’s easier to scream at someone on Twitter than in real life, it’s easier to rage at a masked flight attendant than one whose face you can fully see. “You don’t really see a human being so much as you’re seeing someone masked,” Sampson said. Though one study found that face masks don’t dehumanize the wearer, another small experiment found that they do impair people’s ability to detect emotions….

I read that, and it hit me: Whoa! They mean the Raskolnikov Syndrome! Why didn’t I realize this before? After all, I’ve been thinking about it, and sometimes talking about it, since I was in college — although I don’t think I actually wrote about it until 2012. Here, in part, is how I set out the idea at that time:

I’ve long had this theory that people who do truly horrendous things that Ordinary Decent People can’t fathom do them because they’ve actually entered another state of being that society, because it is society, can’t relate to.

Quite simply, people like James Eagan Holmes are able to spend time planning a mass murder, prepare for it, gather guns and ammunition and explosives and body armor, and actually go to the intended scene of the crime and carry it out, without ever stopping and saying, “Hey, wait a minute — what am I doing?” because they’re not interacting enough with other human beings.

This allows their thoughts, unchecked, to wander off to strange places indeed — and stay there, without other people making social demands on them that call them back.

I think there’s a quality in the social space between people that assesses the ideas we have in our heads and tells us whether they are ideas worth having, or so far beyond the pale that we should stop thinking them. This vetting doesn’t have to be conscious; it’s not like you’re overtly throwing the idea out there and seeking feedback. I think that in your own mind, you constantly test ideas against what you believe the people around you would think of them, and it naturally affects how you regard the ideas yourself. I think this happens no matter how independent-minded you think you are, no matter how introverted in the Jungian sense. Unless, of course, you are a true sociopath. And I believe a lack of sufficient meaningful interaction with other people you care about plays a big factor in turning you into one of those.

Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov was the perfect case, fitting all the criteria we keep hearing about. Brilliant young mind, but he suffered a series of setbacks that embarrassed him and caused him to draw away from his friends. Living hundreds if not thousands of miles from his family, he was forced by lack of money to drop out of school. Rather than make money doing the translations his friend Razumikhin tried to throw his way, he fell to brooding in his ratty garret, or wandering alone through the crowded city, thinking — and not sharing his thoughts.

His murderous plan started with a provocative, if not quite mad, idea that he wrote an essay about — setting out the theory that extraordinary people who were destined to do extraordinary things for the world had a right, if not a duty, to step over the normal social rules and boundaries that restricted ordinary people. Had he been in contact with friends and family, they would have challenged him on this, as Razumikhin did late in the book, when he learned of the essay. Maybe they wouldn’t have changed his mind, in the abstract, but if he had been having dinner each night with his mother and sister, and going out for drinks regularly with Razumikhin, it would have been impossible for him to have carried it to the next level…

I explained further, including sharing the passage that “proved” the theory to me, and I’d love for you to go back and read the whole thing. But that’s the essence.

So yeah, the piece in The Atlantic is referring to a form of that Syndrome. Which is cool, and helpful. I feel like I understand the pandemic-behavior problem a bit better now.

This is particularly an eye-opener to me because, as an introvert, I haven’t minded the isolation of the last two years at all. I haven’t found it stressful, and in many ways — such as not going to an office every day (or at all, really) — I’ve seen it as pretty awesome.

But I had forgotten about my own theory about Raskolnikov. Now I get it.

But to repeat myself, that still doesn’t explain 2016, or the fact that so many millions of people did that again in 2020, and can’t wait to do it again in 2024, whether the pandemic is still affecting our lives or not.

So, I’ll have to keep looking. Because helpful as it is, “Rabbit Hole” doesn’t explain it all — does it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

DeMarco: “Dos” and “Don’ts” for next year’s Christmas greetings

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Actually, it will be all “don’ts.”

It seems that 99.9% of Americans understand what Christmas best wishes, be they traditional hold-in-your hand cards or digital missives, should involve. Unfortunately, two of our nation’s highest elected officials, who represent us to the nation and the world, have not a clue.

It started with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky) posting a virtual Yuletide greeting on Twitter. The photo showed him, his wife, and their four children posing in front of a Christmas tree all armed with assault rifles. The caption read “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo.” An analysis published in Forbes estimated the arsenal on display to be worth at least $20,000. It should surprise no one that his fellow representative, Lauren Boebert (R-Co), responded with an image of her and her four children, the youngest of whom appears to be 9 or 10 years old, bearing similar weapons captioned “The Boeberts have your six, @RepThomasMassie! (No spare ammo for you, though).”

It will be difficult with the words I have left to count all the ways these images violate sanity, logic, dignity, propriety and Christian ethics.

First, as a gun owner, I am embarrassed for Massie and Boebert. I came relatively late to gun ownership, being introduced to hunting in my early thirties, soon after moving to Marion. What I quickly learned about hunters is that they are very careful with and respectful of their weapons. The only time I have my shotgun in my living room is when I am transporting it from my gun safe to my vehicle to hunt or shoot clays. Only a reckless pretender would pose with a firearm indoors. Massie and Boebert’s photos should anger all responsible gun owners.

Second, the use of children in this way is abominable. When I gave my son a shotgun at age twelve, I taught him the cardinal safety rules: Always assume a gun is loaded and never point it at anything you don’t want to kill. As I handed him the gun, I praised him for maturing into a young man who could be trusted with it. Then I reminded him that he could kill me if he were careless. He started to cry, which reassured me even further. It was clear that he understood the seriousness that owning guns should invoke. Think of what lessons Boebert’s youngest child is learning from her stunt: that guns can be treated like toys; that they are props, to be brought out for show; that they are political swag, to be used to drum up support.

Third, their desecration of Christmas is disgraceful. Massie is a United Methodist, as am I. Wikipedia describes Boebert as a born-again Christian. While on earth, Jesus said a few things about violence including “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9) and “Do not resist the evildoer… if anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other also.” (Matthew 5:39). When Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested, Peter defended him by cutting off a servant’s ear. Jesus says, “No more of this!” and touched the ear to heal him. Because of Jesus’ teachings some Christians, such as Quakers and Seventh-day Adventists, feel that violence in any form is incompatible with the faith. The vast majority of others recognize Jesus as a gentle healer who accepted crucifixion without resistance. It would be hard to find a Christian who could make a connection between the Jesus of the Bible and Massie’s and Boebert’s version of him.

Fourth, Christmas is traditionally a time when we call a truce on our disagreements and focus on what unites us. According to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 44,000 people died in 2021 from gun violence, more than 23,000 of those by suicide. No one, no matter his or her view of the Second Amendment, can be satisfied with those figures. Both sides recognize the need for change, and could be induced to work together on measures to save lives.

America needs rational gun owners to come together with reasonable gun-control advocates. But this can only happen if we have political leaders on each side of the debate who exemplify a fair-minded approach. I have a foot in each camp and know people on both sides of the divide. The extreme positions – that gun owners will not accept any kind of new restrictions, and that gun control advocates want to repeal the Second Amendment – are too often used by politicians to stoke fear and anger. But most Americans are open to commonsense approaches such as universal background checks. Massie’s and Boebert’s Christmas display of guns is counterproductive, widening the divide between the opposing sides.

Similarly, at a time when Christianity is losing its appeal, especially among young adults, these images will only accelerate that trend. One of the major reasons nonChristians cite for rejecting Christianity is hypocrisy. When congressmen and women who identify as Christian post guns in their Christmas cards, it gives more young people an excuse the turn away from the faith. It’s impossible to reconcile Isaiah’s foretelling of the coming Messiah – “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” – and Massie’s and Boebert’s Christmas photos.

For Christmas 2019, Rep. Massie posted a more traditional picture of his family (outdoors and unarmed) with the caption “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14), proving that it’s easier to promote good will toward your fellow American when you’re not brandishing a rifle.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. This post first ran as a column in the Florence Morning News.

Joel Lourie on losing Bob Dole

I just thought I’d share this with y’all. I found it on LinkedIn, and asked Joel, and he said he didn’t mind.

It’s what Joel Lourie, former Democratic state senator, had to say upon the death of Bob Dole the other day. I share it because it reminds us the way one human being is supposed to speak of another, regardless of such insignificant things as party affiliation:

Bob Dole was a good man, and yes, definitely a hero, and he deserves all the kind words that come his way.

You’ll see Joel’s post got more than 140 likes. Quite a few were from other friends of mine, including James Smith…

The kids aren’t getting smarter — or any more responsible

queue

A friend sent me this picture a little while ago. I immediately asked whether she was still there, and could get me another shot without that car in the way.

She said it wasn’t hers; she had gotten it from a Tweet:

I checked with the guy who posted it, and he said he took the picture at about 3:30 p.m. today.

That’s the same spot pictured in this previous post, at 5:48 p.m. on Sept. 9.

The earlier shot was less… impressive, if that’s the word you want to use.

It almost seems irrelevant to ask, but how many masks do you see? No, I don’t see any, either.

What does one say about this kind of indiscriminate, homicidal behavior?

I dunno. Here’s what Chris Trainor of The State had to say:

Oh, one more thing: I don’t think they’re waiting to get into Subway. It’s about the bar next door. But that’s just a guess on my part, based on what I was told the last time. I asked Lee Snelgrove, and he didn’t know — he was just riding by…

The mob turned me into a NEWT! And I didn’t get better!

This is something new to me: a satirical video op-ed — in the Gray Lady, no less!

mobI loved it. It was accompanied by some text. Having read it, and followed the links, I’ve concluded that as just as these mobs have always been with us, they’re probably not going away any time soon — mainly because the current culprits are immune to irony.

Even President Obama’s gentle attempt to speak to them as a grownup should got the mob howling at him. As the subhed of one piece taking exception to his plea says, “Old, powerful people often seem to be more upset by online criticism than they are by injustice.”

Speaking of Barack Obama. Yeah.

I’m guessing that if cancel culturists see this video, when a character says, “Our anger makes us qualified,” or “I‘m a peasant, and I’m offended,” they don’t get the joke. In fact, they may even get… offended.

Anyway, to add to the fun, here’s the original:

So, where do you stand on carrying the bat to first base?

bregman

Here’s a little thought experiment…

Earlier, some of you expressed disapproval of the crowd booing Trump at the World Series Sunday night, while others defended it.

Contemplating another Series controversy from last night’s game (and not the disagreement that led to the Nationals’ manager being ejected — it was quite a game), it occurs to me that it might be a sort of related issue.

I’d like to see y’all’s positions on the booing thing alongside your positions on whether it was OK for Alex Bregman and Juan Soto to carry their bats to first base after hitting home runs.

I have this theory that people who were disturbed by the booing would also disapprove of the bat-carrying, both being violations of certain standards of behavior. Likewise, anyone likely to approve of the “Lock him up” chant would be more inclined to let those young ballplayers strut a bit.

Me, I disapprove of both. I see both within a context of society fraying, becoming less civilized.

You?

soto

A story that sheds light on why I’m for Joe Biden

Biden stump 1

Tonight Joe Biden (and others) will be at the Galivants Ferry Stump Speaking. I had thought seriously about going, but decided I had too much to do to take the trip — almost two hours each way. (If you’re closer, I urge you to go. The Stump is always interesting, and this special-edition gathering promises to be particularly so.)

So I’ll give you a picture or two from the last time I saw and interviewed Joe at the Stump, and give you a link to my column about it. It was in 2006. (Special bonus feature: The column quotes former blog regular Paul DeMarco, who happened to be at the Stump — as I noted in a separate post at the time.)

And to add a measure of substance, here’s something else I meant to post last week. I don’t expect it to change any minds among those of you who don’t like Joe for whatever reason, but I offer it as another window into why I’m for him, and really don’t have a second choice among the others running.

It’s a story from the NYT about the way he handled the process that ended in a vote against Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork. An excerpt:

Joseph R. Biden Jr. was on the brink of victory, but he was unsatisfied.

Mr. Biden, the 44-year-old chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was poised to watch his colleagues reject President Ronald Reagan’s formidable nominee to the Supreme Court, Robert H. Bork. The vote was unlikely to be close. Yet Mr. Biden was hovering in the Senate chamber, plying Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, a Republican of modestly conservative politics and regal bearing, with arguments about Bork’s record.

Rejecting a Supreme Court nominee was an extraordinary act of defiance, and Mr. Biden did not want a narrow vote that could look like an act of raw partisan politics….

Mr. Biden’s entreaties prevailed: Mr. Warner became one of 58 senators to vote against Bork, and one of six Republicans.

That’s Joe. As the piece says, it was a moment when “Mr. Biden’s political ethos found its most vivid and successful expression.” At a moment when most partisans would be satisfied simply to win, Joe wanted to go the extra mile to win in a way less likely to tear the country apart. One more excerpt:

The strategy Chairman Biden deployed then is the same one he is now proposing to bring to the White House as President Biden.

In the 1980s, as today, he saw bipartisan compromise not as a version of surrender, but as a vital tool for achieving Democratic goals….

And in both defining moments — his leadership of the Bork hearings and his third presidential campaign — Mr. Biden made persuading moderates, rather than exciting liberals, his guiding objective….

Yep, that sets him part from the people in his own party and the other who tend to think it terms of getting 50 percent plus one and cramming their policy goals down the opposition’s throat.

I have little patience with such people. And that’s another reason why Joe is my guy. He’s the one candidate who is the polar opposite of what’s wrong with our national politics…

Biden stump 2

Can it with the lame excuses for incivility

The president of the United States is a jerk. His loyal followers are jerks, as they eagerly demonstrate at the rallies where he laps up their adulation. His jerkiness is what they love about him, and theirs is what he loves about them — or would be, if he were capable of loving anyone but himself.download (2)

The people in his administration are, with occasional exceptions, also jerks.

And if you think that the way to defeat all these jerks — in elections, or merely in the court of public opinion — is to be a jerk yourself, then you’re an idiot.

Oops. There I go, being a jerk myself. But I’m pretty sick and tired of hearing people give stupid excuses for being uncivilized.

I sort of reached the end of my patience with the “They did it first!” argument this morning:

I don’t know about Democrats, but anybody who wants to turn back the tide of boorishness is going to have to start by acting like a grownup. That’s not all that’s required to win, of course, but it’s a prerequisite for my vote.

Poor Eugene Robinson. I normally don’t even read his columns. That headline of his just ended up being the straw on the camel’s back….

Marquerite Willis’ race-baiting radio ad (and the debate, too)

Cynthia Hardy, Jim Felder, me and Jon Parker on the radio Sunday night.

Cynthia Hardy, Jim Felder, me and Jon Parker on the radio Sunday night. At this moment I’m apparently making a terribly cogent point that requires hand gestures, even on the radio.

(Editor’s note: I wrote this last night, but am just posting it today because of problems with the sound file. WordPress will take an MP3, but not a WAV.)

Did y’all watch that Democratic gubernatorial debate tonight? I didn’t get to see most of it, but I heard a good bit on the radio while I was driving first to a program at my youngest grandchildren’s school, then over to my parents’ house to check on my Dad (he had a fall recently, but is doing better), then home. A few seconds after I turned on the TV, it was over.

I did pull over a couple of times to Tweet about what I was hearing. I Tweeted this at the end:

Speaking of unpleasantness…

Sunday, I was a guest on Cynthia Hardy’s show on the Big DM (you can watch the show here). Before the show started, Cynthia asked whether Jim Felder and I had heard the “race-baiting ad” — as she said some had called it — that Marguerite Willis was running. I said no, and she played it for us.

Give it a listen. And (let me know if you had technical difficulties.)

When it was done, I said, “So… I suppose she’s playing that mostly on the country stations…” As soon as I said it, it occurred to me that my joke might fall flat, although Jim Felder laughed politely.

That’s really something. And it’s totally consistent with what I heard of the debate, which at another point caused me to Tweet:

But that ad was something — grossly unfair, misleading and desperate. But the issue remains, will she and Noble manage to inflict enough damage on a good man so as to ensure a GOP victory in the fall? Because surely the two Democratic challengers are bright enough to know neither of them would have a chance in a general election…

Me, too, Mandy. We need more such pictures…

Mandy and Nathan

In the spirit of the UnParty

Mandy Powers Norrell, a Democrat I see as a positive force in the S.C. House, tweeted this a few minutes ago:

Yep, me, too, Mandy. We need more such pictures…

I miss our two former party chairmen, Matt & Jaime

In reaction to disclosures regarding Rick Quinn’s case, former state GOP Chairman Matt Moore Tweeted this:

I retweeted it, and former state Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison responded:

Always a class act!

Yes, Jaime, and so are you.

I normally don’t care much for parties, as y’all know, but I often approve of some of their members. And Matt and Jaime were unusual party chairs. They were friends rather than enemies, and worked together when they could for the betterment of South Carolina. For instance, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.

Later, they both came out for reforming two of the greatest scourges of partisanship: gerrymandering and straight-ticket voting.

Our politics needs more guys like these two…

Matt, Yours Truly and Jaime celebrating the removal of the flag.

Matt, Yours Truly and Jaime celebrating the removal of the flag.

Liberal friends, here’s an example of left-leaning irrationality

Some of my liberal friends here are constantly on my case for what they call my “false equivalence.” They believe they are not contributing to the careening, irrational polarization of our era — it’s the extremists on the other side who are entirely to blame.

Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat

Which, of course, isn’t true. Yep, the Republicans (or a lot of them) have been getting weirder and weirder in recent years, but  there are plenty of people on the left who are happy to keep pushing them away.

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times wrote a provocative column a day or two back. Basically the thrust of it was this: As objectionable as Stephen Miller is, maybe he needs to be at the table if a viable immigration compromise is to be reached. For years, we’ve tried fashioning a comprehensive solution without the nativists at the table, and nothing has passed. Maybe it’s time to try something else.

He concludes, “But a bargain that actually reflects the shape of public opinion, not just the elite consensus, can only happen with someone like Stephen Miller at the table.”

This sent a lot of people ’round the bend, causing Douthat to spend much of the next few hours answering critics on Twitter. Some engaged what he actually wrote. But here’s what Salon said:

In case that Tweet embed doesn’t show you what I’m seeing (a frequent problem I’ve noticed), the headline of the Salon piece is “To Ross Douthat, white immigration is the only good immigration,” and the subhed is “A New York Times columnist praises the whites-only rhetoric of Stephen Miller.”

I responded to that Tweet by saying, “That’s not what he wrote and it’s not what he meant. He was WRONG, but he didn’t commit the evil of which you accuse him…”

The closest Douthat comes to “praising” Miller is when, after nothing that about a third of Americans, like Miller “want immigration reduced,” he writes this:

And there are various reasonable grounds on which one might favor a reduction. The foreign-born share of the U.S. population is near a record high, and increased diversity and the distrust it sows have clearly put stresses on our politics. There are questions about how fast the recent wave of low-skilled immigrants is assimilating, evidence that constant new immigration makes it harder for earlier arrivals to advance, and reasons to think that a native working class gripped by social crisis might benefit from a little less wage competition for a while. California, the model for a high-immigration future, is prosperous and dynamic — but also increasingly stratified by race, with the same inequality-measuring Gini coefficient as Honduras….

But that is immediately followed by this:

With that said, illegal immigration has slowed over the last decade, and immigration’s potential economic and humanitarian benefits are still considerable. And it’s also clear that many immigration restrictionists are influenced by simple bigotry — with the president’s recent excrement-related remarks a noteworthy illustration.

This bigotry, from the point of view of many immigration advocates, justifies excluding real restrictionists from the negotiating table…

… which leads to Douthat’s point that doing so hasn’t worked; maybe actually negotiating with these people could.

I read that as damning Miller with something harsher than faint “praise.”

Overall, I consider Miller and what he wants to do beyond the pale, because of the ugly nativism that animates the anti-immigrant position (and yes, in this case we’re talking anti-immigrant, not just anti-illegal immigrant). What he wants to achieve shouldn’t be dignified with serious consideration.

But it doesn’t make you a racist or a fan of racism to suggest that he should be let into the conversation.

And saying, in no uncertain terms, that it does is itself an example of the kind of extremism that’s driven our country apart.

Jim Clyburn just called me an extremist (which says a lot about Washington)

Bud, get ready to duck, because this has to do with abortion, at least tangentially. In fact, I’ve got another couple of post ideas that do the same. You might want to sit these out, since it bugs you when the topic comes up.

Anyway, yesterday James Clyburn sent me this personal note, with my name on it and everything — so I’m taking it personally (a little, anyway):

Brad –

45 years ago, the Supreme Court handed down one of their most powerful decisions in Roe v Wade, codifying a woman’s right to access a legal abortion in the United States.

You’d think that would have settled the matter — but extremists have been trying to strip women of this basic reproductive right ever since….

So basically, since I’m opposed to this absolute right that allows highly interested individuals to make decisions about whether other individuals live or die unilaterally, without due process, much less appeal, I’m an extremist. Instead of, you know, a believer in the rule of law who wants the unborn to have the same shot at survival that a murderer gets. (And yeah, I’m opposed to capital punishment, too. That’s part of what “pro-life” means.)James Clyburn

But never mind me, and never mind abortion. This is not about me. It’s not even about Jim Clyburn. It’s about the fact that this is the way people in both parties in Washington speak about people who disagree with them.

Lord knows the Republicans do it. And this is one of the ways that Democrats do it. They appeal to their hyperpartisan bases by using language that delegitimizes people who disagree.

I try not to do this (I may fail, but I try). You know why? Because I have lots of friends — earnest, thoughtful people — who disagree with me on this issue. For the most part, I avoid talking with them about this. But when we do discuss it, I try to be respectful.

And you know what? I’ll bet that in a one-on-one conversation with a constituent, Jim Clyburn would try to do the same.

But not in press releases and other political speech. You know why? Because these days, Democrats and Republicans only speak to their own sides. And those other people are personae non gratae, and not worthy of consideration…

 

Yes, Trump violated this blog’s standards today

Yesterday, Trump welcomed the prime minister of Norway which, as he explained today, is NOT a "s__thole country." I'll bet she's relieved to know that.

Yesterday, Trump welcomed the prime minister of Norway which, as he explained today, is NOT a “s__thole country.” I’ll bet she’s relieved to know that.

I’ve been so busy today doing actual work, I didn’t know what Bryan was talking about when he texted, “Would the president’s comment today violate your blog’s civility standard? Assume he was posting under his own name.”

So I went and looked, and the answer is “yes,” of course it would. It also poses a problem to newspapers across the country that normally don’t allow such language to foul their pages. The Gray Lady, The New York Times, refused to use it in a headline. The breaking bulletin on their site said ” Using vulgar language, President Trump said the U.S. should welcome immigrants from Norway, not places like Haiti or Africa.” And the headline after you get to the story said “Trump Alarms Lawmakers With Disparaging Words for Haiti and Africa.”

But the president of the United States said it, and it’s a newspaper’s job to report, so they held their noses and quoted him directly in the body of the story:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and African countries, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than people from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Mr. Trump’s remarks left members of Congress attending the meeting in the Cabinet Room alarmed and mystified. They were there discussing an emerging bipartisan deal to give legal status to immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity without authorization to discuss the explosive proceedings of the private meeting.

When Mr. Trump heard that Haitians were among those who would benefit, he asked if they could be left out of the plan, according to the people familiar with the conversation, asking, “Why do we want people from Haiti here?”…

So I just violated my own policy, which is not to allow words that are unsuitable in a family newspaper. I didn’t like doing it. But then, I don’t like having this crude ignoramus as president of the United States, and stuff like this is one of the reasons why.

Being less prim, The Washington Post went ahead and used the word in their headline, since the word itself was half the story. That’s defensible, perhaps even laudable in these crass times in which we live.

The Guardian used it in the headline, but the Brits are less puritanical about words than we are.

The State used it in the headline, but good luck finding the story on the website — it’s not on the home page. (The Post and The Guardian are both leading with the story.)

Enough with Trump’s call to the widow, please!

KIAs

Today, NPR raises the question, “After Controversy Over Condolence Calls, Can Trump And The White House Refocus?

The answer to that, we’ve all learned, is probably “no.” Even if the White House does everything it should, and resolves to move forward and concentrate on other things, Trump will get up at 6 the next morning, if not earlier, and blow it all with a Tweet. We know this.

But yeah, it would be nice not to have to hear about any of this any more, at all.

For the widow, Myeshia Johnson, the pain must go on. I pray that God send his healing grace upon her and help her through this nightmare, but we know the loss will always be with her. She has received the call that my family dreaded the full year of my Dad’s tour in Vietnam, and her loss is real and profound and permanent.

The best we can do for her right now is honor her fallen husband, and stop intruding on her grief, and stop dragging it into politics.

This whole thing has been SO unseemly from the start.

And how did it start? With Donald Trump trying to do something that has rightly or wrongly become part of the job of president, something he is particularly ill-equipped to do. But at least he was trying.

And, because he is so ill-equipped on so many levels, it went badly. The widow says he made things worse.

It’s not necessarily that the words he said were so awful. In defending him, Chief of Staff John Kelly said that the friend and fellow general officer who consoled him when his son was killed used similar words, telling him that that the young man was doing exactly what he wanted to do, that he knew what he was getting into by joining the military in wartime and that he was surrounded when he died by the “best men on Earth.”

(Kelly having to tell this story is another of the awful things about this controversy. Up until then, he had extremely careful to keep his grief private and out of the political sphere.)

Of course, that plays one way when one Marine says it to another Marine, his good friend, who himself has sent men in harm’s way. That’s a conversation within the brotherhood. It plays differently when Mr. Bone-Spur Deferment says it to a grieving widow.

Then we had the whole business of the Democratic congresswoman (who surprisingly is not from Texas) having been with the widow during the phone call and backing the story that the president had said the wrong things, then Trump lashing out childishly with lies about Obama not having made condolence calls. (This is standard with Trump and his supporters — when criticized, they yell, “Hillary! Obama!” It matters not at all to them that it’s almost always a non sequitur.)

You had Trump stating he had called all families of those killed in action, and the press checking it out and finding he’d called about half of the ones reporters could reach.

And then, at one point, we had the sideshow — leading The Washington Post‘s website for a time — about a grieving father whom Trump called. This father griped to Trump about not receiving survivor’s benefits — they were going to his ex-wife, the mother — and Trump promised to write him a personal check for $25,000, but the Dad says he didn’t. (The White House later said the check is in the mail.) I just don’t even know how to count up how many ways that story is tawdry and cringe-inducing…

Before the week was out, there was also the business of John Kelly helping Trump lash out at the congresswoman, and saying something untrue and unfair to her in the process. Then there was the funeral over the weekend, and just this morning the widow appearing on “Good Morning America” to share what she thought of Trump…

It’s just all so awful, so disheartening. Whether you care about respecting the sacrifice of a soldier, or the dignity of the presidency, or just normal, everyday human decency, it’s been an unpleasant spectacle.

And even though I know whatever this president moves onto next will probably be just as unseemly, I for one am ready for the moving-on part…

About this kneeling thing…

kneel

As reluctant as I am to write about anything that happens on football fields, here goes…

Obviously, we have a different situation than we did when Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand during the national anthem.

Actually, to be technical, we had a different situation when Kaepernick switched from sitting to kneeling, way back when he still had a job. Obviously, kneeling is by definition less disrespectful.

And of course now, it’s no longer about the anthem or the flag, but about Donald Trump making a fool of himself yet again, as he is wont to do. Which is why serious essays on the subject have headlines such as “What Will Taking the Knee Mean Now?

My problem with Kaepernick’s original action — the sitting — was first, that it was so upsetting to my friend Jack Van Loan. Secondarily, it arose from the problem I tend to have with nonverbal forms of protest. My attitude is, if you have a problem with something, use your words.

Words allow us to be very precise about what upsets us and why it does. They allow us to clearly advocate remedies for the problems to which we object.

But what does refusing to stand for the flag, or the National Anthem, say? Since the flag, and the anthem, represent the entire nation, it means your beef is with everything about the country. Your protest is entirely lacking in specificity. You’re saying you’re objecting to the entire country because some white cops committed acts of violence against some black citizens — or whatever legitimate locus of concern you started with.

You’re saying the whole country is as bad as the North Charleston cop who shot Walter Scott. Every bit of it, starting with the Founders and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You’re dissing Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass along with Robert E. Lee (despite the fact Douglass has been doing such a terrific job lately). You’re lumping in Martin Luther King with George Wallace. They’re all part of America, so you blame them all.

This is not helpful, to your cause or to anything else.

You have a complaint — express it clearly and specifically. Use your words — preferably, quire a few more of them than you could fit on a bumper sticker.

Words aren’t perfect — I can certainly testify to that. Someone will always misunderstand. If you write “up,” you will surely be loudly castigated for saying “down.” But at least with words, there’s a chance of clear communication, and perhaps even agreement– perhaps even changing someone’s mind! (See what a Pollyanna I am?)

Anyway, all that is sort of beside the point now, since obviously the kneeling of the last few days has been about Donald J. Trump. He saw to that. He has managed to focus something that previous lacked focus.

Now, it’s about whether people have the right to kneel — and obviously, they do — and whether the president of the United States is empowered to order them not to. Which, of course, he isn’t.

He’s not too good with words himself, but Trump certainly has a talent for clarifying things…

A discussion Friday about lessons from Charlottesville

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Remember a couple of months back, when I moderated a forum for the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council about the Bull Street redevelopment project?

Well, tomorrow we’re going to have another one that may interest you. It starts at 11:30 a.m. at the offices of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices at 930 Richland St.

The topic is “Lessons from Charlottesville.” The idea is to have a discussion about the implications for our own community arising from the issues raised there.

We expect 30 or so people, including Tameika Isaac Devine from city council, J.T. McLawhorn from the Columbia Urban League, and Matt Kennell from the City-Center Partnership.

Bryan came to the Bull Street one, and I think he found the discussion interesting. I did, anyway.

Whether y’all can come or not, I’d like a little advice. I’ve thrown together a short list of questions to offer to the group. The questions are just ways to keep the discussion going as needed. These discussions don’t follow a formal structure, with questions followed by timed answers, or anything like that.

Here are the ones I have. Suggestions?

  1. Could what happened in Charlottesville happen here? If not, why not? And if so, what can we do to prevent it?
  2. Even if we are spared the violence we saw in Virginia, how should we here in the Midlands respond to the issues that confrontation laid bare?
  3. President Trump has been roundly criticized for his response to what happened. What would you like to hear elected leaders in South Carolina say regarding these issues?
  4. Being the capital of the first state to secede, we have more Confederate monuments here than in most places. What, if anything, should we do with them?
  5. Has anyone present had a change of attitude or perspective, something that you’d like to share, as a result of the re-emergence of these issues onto the nation’s front burner?

1024px-Lee_Park,_Charlottesville,_VA

The way to bring Americans together is fairly obvious

Young_men_registering_for_military_conscription,_New_York_City,_June_5,_1917

As soon as I saw this headline this morning:

Americans are stuck in bubbles. Here’s a way to pop them.

I thought, “The answer is obvious: National service.”

Y’all have heard my theory before, I’m sure: That American politics starting being nasty, with Democrats and Republicans thinking of each other as “the enemy” rather than as fellow Americans, when men who had not served together in the military started rising to top leadership positions in both parties.

Civil deliberation, a process upon which our republic relies in order to work, went off a cliff about the time Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich rose to lead their respective parties. What did they have in common? Neither had had the melting-pot experience of military service. Before them, political leaders who had not served in uniform were rare. After them, that was the norm.

And from then on, the partisanship got worse and worse. Guys who had served together had had an early formative experienced that forced them to realize that they had something fundamental in common with other Americans, regardless of race, religion, social class, regional origin or political views. As different as they might have been going into the Army, basic training taught them they were all just dogfaces. (Those who went into the Navy, Marines and Air Force had similar leveling experiences.)

But never mind me and my theory. Richard Cohen’s column this morning makes the same point, as you can tell he’s going to do from the first graf:

I once had a very close friend named Charlie. We spent every day together, and much of the night, too. I got to learn about his family and old neighborhood, and he got to learn about mine, and then one day I saw him no more. I went my way, and he went his, and it has been many years, but I remember him still. We had been in the Army together….

I was 23, an erstwhile claims guy for an insurance company who had been plodding through college at night, six credits a semester. At Fort Dix and later Fort Leonard Wood, I got thrown in with country boys who had never had a toothbrush (the Army gave them false teeth) and tough city kids who strutted the barracks by day but cried for their mothers in their sleep at night.

I learned about their lives, even their sex lives (I will spare you), and I got to like them, and some of them liked me as well. We all had the same goal, which was to get through training. We all dressed alike, ate the same food, showered together and, over time, became a single unit. I mostly hated the Army, but I mostly loved those guys.

Now the Army is for volunteers only. Now affluent kids go to schools and colleges with similar people and, afterward, work is usually not much different. They don’t know anyone who never used a toothbrush or cries in the night for his mother or speaks in a Southern accent so thick in molasses it might as well be a foreign language. These folks do not, in short, know America….

OK, I’ll stop there lest I get in trouble with the Post for exceeding Fair Use. But you get the idea.

You should read the whole thing, and when you do you’ll find that Cohen is not advocating a reinstatement of the draft.

Nor am I, at least at this moment in our history. Reinstating the draft would be problematic today. To cite but one problem, it would be politically difficult to institute a draft of males only. I’m not going to get into why I’d oppose drafting women and girls today; I’ll just say that I (and a lot of other people, including many, I suspect, who wouldn’t admit that was why they opposed the draft) don’t hold with it. Besides, the generals don’t really want draftees anyway — they much prefer to command patriotic and motivated volunteers, and it’s hard to blame them.

So it’s hard to make the argument right now that it’s a national security necessity.

Another problem I have is that as great a unifier as the draft was in its time, it was far from perfect. For instance, it left out guys like me. I’ve always sort of resented that — I’m a fairly healthy guy who could have made a contribution. At the same time, I can understand not wanting a soldier who, separated from his medications, could have an asthma attack in the middle of a battle and let the unit down.

But surely I could have been useful. That’s why I join Cohen in calling for a broader sort of national service that includes everybody, as they have in such places as Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Norway.

It would be good for those involved, and good for the country.

And it would send my libertarian friends ’round the bend, so there’s that cherry on top as well… 🙂

A simple, human appeal for civility

This morning, I saw a Tweet that said the following:

And my curiosity was piqued. What sort of a piece would have a headline like that? I was guessing it was a Dear Abby-type advice column. I HOPED it wasn’t a let-it-all-hang-out piece by an identified person talking about his or her family. That is, I hoped those pictures in the illustration weren’t of the actual people involved.

I didn’t think they were, but I was curious enough to click and find out.

What I found was something that puzzled me. It had the anonymous person writing in, but not the answer from the “Abby” figure. No advice at all. Just the personal problem set out, followed by comments.

But the thing I liked was the editor’s note that lay between the problem and the comments. It went like this:

When leaving a message on this page, please be sensitive to the fact that you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Private Lives asking for help, and may well view your comments here. Please consider especially how your words or the tone of your message could be perceived by someone in this situation, and be aware that comments that appear to be disruptive or disrespectful to the individual concerned will be removed.

It was a standard “Don’t respond just to be a jerk” appeal, but I liked the way it tried to reach, oh-so-optimistically, the humanity in the responder, however dormant it might be.

you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Private Lives asking for help…

If only people could always keep that in mind. Too many of us have trouble with that. I’ve written about this before, but I will again: Nonjournalists think of reporters as cynical jerks who no more consider the humanity of their subjects than they would the hopes and dreams of an ant under a magnifying glass.

But that’s actually not the case. Their editors might be that way, if they don’t get out of the office much. And copy editors are the most dismissive cynics to be found in a newsroom. To them, newsmakers are abstractions, distant figures even farther from them than the ant under the glass. Copy editors who work on morning newspapers can be, in my experience, the worst, because they don’t meet many people, period. Their hours don’t allow for it, and their reality becomes what they read on a screen, and the company of the other cynics that sit around them, the more extroverted of them making sarcastic cracks about the people in the news — and about the stupid reporters who apparently have never consulted a stylebook.

Reporters, by contrast, know their subjects — even the worst among them — as people. They see the newsmakers whole, as living, breathing creatures. They may be tough on them, but they know they’re being tough on fellow humans. Reporters have to be able to do that in order to connect with sources and do their jobs.

There are a lot of readers out there who are like those copy editors. The people they read about aren’t real to them.

So while it may or may not work, I appreciate that approach to asking commenters to be civil. The first step is remembering that the people they’re responding to are people…

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