Friday, June 29, 2018

Look Up

The end of civility. Michelle Obama once said that "When they go low, we go high." A couple of years ago, this was her way of suggesting how to avoid getting into the fray that had begun well and full during the 2016 election. At the time, she was drawing a line between "them" and "us." The "us" was the Democratic party, to whom she was speaking directly, and "they" were Republicans who she felt had lowered the level of discourse as the nation prepared to go to the polls. It was her hope that the party for whom her husband had run for president nearly a decade before that would discuss the issues and their plans for the future instead of the name-calling and character assassination that became such a large part of the focus of the campaign.
This took place while a crowd outside the Philadelphia venue was chanting "Lock her up!" This was not a reference to Ms. Obama, but rather to the presumptive candidate of the Democratic convention, Hillary Clinton. The crowd that was doing the chanting were Democrats, supporters of Bernie Sanders.
I mention this bit of history because civility has been in short supply for some time now, without a sign of return to a kinder, gentler version anytime soon. The way candidates talked about each other within their own parties was surprising enough, with personal physical attributes becoming part of the discussion during debates leading up to the presidential primaries. Name-calling was the order of the day. How did that happen?
Fast forward to the family dinner that took place at my mother's house where my older brother asked a very good and very difficult to answer question: Why? What good did the ugly tweets and confrontations on comedy shows make in a country that is already so horribly divided? What purpose did all this rhetoric serve?
And it was with a sense of guilt that I began to defend the words that had been slung around over the past two years, and the answer became more and more clear: None. So I abandoned the defense, knowing that I was responsible for this trend from more than a decade ago when I refused to refer to George W. Bush as anything but "President Pinhead." I have been even less careful in my manner of address to the current "President."
The best answer I could come up with for my brother and anyone else who was listening was this: Anger. People are angry. They are lashing out in less than dignified ways because they are angry about where we find ourselves at this point in history. That anger is not exclusive to my side or their side or any side. There is a great big snot bubble of anger that currently stretches across the United States. The danger is this: What happens when that bubble bursts? Does someone have to be really hurt? I would argue that that has already happened. Or maybe I shouldn't argue.
But I will continue to express my outrage. And I will try and keep Michelle Obama's reminder in front of me. Now is not the time to go low. I believe we have gone low enough. Time to look up to the light.

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