Much has been made of the current climate of incivility in politics. While it’s true Republican and Democratic politicians contribute to the tone and tenor of the debate, social media compounds the problem by providing anonymity to many of those expressing their views.
I write a weekly progressive column in a deep red county’s local newspaper. As you might expect, my views receive a lot of pushback. Letters to the editor are generally civil, primarily because the writer must identify him or herself.
In contrast, my opinions are also posted on the newspaper’s website where anonymity shields writers, so the critiques tend to be far more personal and uncivil and therein lies the rub. The writer can say what he or she wishes because they don’t have to take responsibility for their words.
The same can be said for social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Reddit. Post whatever you please, no matter how inflammatory or false, and it’s not necessary to tell the world who you are. The predictable result is incivility and tribalism.
It cuts both ways, no question. We see anonymous posts by progressives and conservatives that cast those with opposing views as not just wrong, but evil people bent on the destruction of the other tribe.
For example, we see memes of political leaders as Nazis or Communists, caricatures that evoke the worst possible extremes. These are often mindlessly shared on social media without any thought given to the underlying facts or if the content will offend others.
Feeding this monster are radio, internet and cable news opinionators, many of whom repeat falsehoods in terms designed to incite anger and fear. Like animals in the jungle, audiences fight or flee when the other side attacks. Nobody wins the debate. People just get angry, alienated and more tribal.
This is what is dividing America along with the incendiary comments from politicians on both sides who seek to encourage members of their respective tribes to go after each other.
I was never a big fan of President Ronald Reagan, but I can’t remember him ever casting his political opponents or media critics in nasty, divisive terms. Dutch could be patronizing or condescending at times, but he was never vicious, never hostile.
One of my favorite shows back then was the McLaughlin Group on PBS. There, well-spoken and respected progressives and conservatives civilly debated the issues, disagreeing agreeably. It serves as an example of what political debate should be today but, sadly, isn’t.
It’s a vicious cycle that can only be stopped if we take a few moments to remember we’re all on the same team; that civility begins with each of us.
Kevin Foley owns KEF Media in Atlanta.