To my great chagrin, I often find myself having thoughts these days that make me feel like a fogey. For example, how those rings that pierce the septum and hang in the center of the nose are just a bad idea. I mean, at what point did making a semi-permanent fashion choice that’s gotta hurt really badly when you sneeze start being considered attractive? But in my head, I sound like Scar-Jo’s mother (or maybe she’s fine with it, I don’t know) when I think these things, so I tend not to say them out loud. I don’t want to be one of those over-the-hill types who complains about kids today and thinks that all new trends are bad because they’re new and she just can’t deal. Cultural change is always derided at first as shocking, improper and indecent. Women’s suffrage, jazz, television, Dungeons and Dragons, people actually thought these things were going to tear down America, but where would it be now without any one of them? I believe that questioning authority, and the status quo, and the cultural norms that keep us in line is vital to progress, so I tend to tell myself that any impulse I have to instantly dislike a new trend that I’ve noticed is telling me that I’m getting old, and I should keep it to myself.
But this time, I’m just going to come right out and say it: the level of our political discourse now truly sucks. What I’m seeing is really two trends fusing into one unholy ball of nasty. It’s one part the way that people are regularly attacked, demeaned and threatened on the internet in the most hateful ways, particularly ones that insult and degrade them based on race, ethnicity, gender/gender identity, and sexual preference; combined with the way in which our “discussion” of politics is becoming the piling up of lie-, hearsay-, and hyperbole-based bullshit, recycled and repeated again and again in the echo chamber of the internet, purely for the sake of winning. A lot of this is just human beings calling other human beings — who I personally think deserve respect just because they’re human beings, much less because they’re as indisputably accomplished as, oh, our president, or Hilary Clinton, or Ben Carson, or even John Kasich — “retard” or “cunt,” just to name the two epithets that leap to mind since I’ve seen them most recently, and because they really do just epitomize how truly awesome we are becoming. Yay, America. But some of it is abusing fact just enough to create a name or catchphrase that sounds good and sticks. In some ways, flat-out lies like saying Barack Obama is a muslim from Kenya, while they have been used effectively on the gullible, are easier to fight than the reductive oversimplification and exaggeration that’s being used this season: “commie,” “fascist,” “criminal,” “liar,” “war-monger,” “lightweight,” “crazy,” “wimp,” “Bernie Bro,” “Shillary.”
You can blame assholes on the internet, or in the Tea Party, or Fox News and talk radio for calling right-wing talking points “news,” or the media and the 24-hour news cycle in general for repeating everything regardless of whether it has any basis in reality — and believe me, I do. We all know that the Republican presidential candidates in particular, with Donald Trump leading the way, really made a name for themselves with this kind of fact-neutral bullshit this season. It was so bad that even the head of the RNC was telling them to cut it out. But now that the Democratic race has heated up, it’s happening on the left too — and even if Hillary and Bernie themselves seem to be still largely sticking to civility, their supporters no longer are. Nope, turns out this is not so much a trend as a contagious disease, infecting us all.
Moreover, hardly anyone seems to be even trying to stop the spread. The Bernie Sanders campaign told its supporters to back off with the nasty comments about Hillary and women who support her, but then that itself became a news story, and then certain Bernie supporters took that as their cue to say that the whole “Bernie Bro” issue was just a campaign tactic, using that as their campaign tactic, until nobody cared any more about the fact that this campaign season does, in fact, have a lot of liberal men saying bad things about women. Madeline Albright admitted that what she said about women who don’t support other women having a special place in hell at a Hillary Clinton rally (which she didn’t explicitly say about female Bernie supporters, but said at a Hillary Clinton rally, so duh) was a mistake, but it’s already been repeated and spun into fuel for both sides, fed by the whole “news story” about how young women support Bernie and older women support Hillary — again, with the point about how such comments reduce the level of debate about gender in this campaign to a mean-spirited popularity contest and how Albright was trying, with her apology, to focus the discussion back on women’s issues and why they still matter, getting completely lost.
Instead, people now just seem to accept this as if it’s the norm, or inevitable, to the point of sometimes even denying that it’s a problem. “Oh,” they say, “that’s just the internet.” Or, when they get called out for doing it, they say, “Well, their side is doing it.” Or they justify it by saying that the other side is just so bad and wrong, the implication somehow being that it doesn’t matter what you say about them, no matter how bad and wrong. And when you try to bring up the fact that this is a problem, this, specifically, the ugly and bombastic way we talk about the candidates and their supporters, the disrespectful way we often talk to each other when we disagree about them, the sexist and misogynistic way women are shouted down or discounted for supporting a particular candidate, or people of color or immigrants are typed and slurred in racist ways for saying what they think, or either of the two is “‘splained” to about how wrong they are for having the nerve to have their own ideas about who they want to support, that this itself IS the problem, the other person often just rolls right on into an argument about why their candidate is better — or really why the other one is worse, since that’s what it always comes down to: who can be demonized more. And that is not the fucking point. And maybe if you were actually listening to what we were saying, you’d get that.
If you — yes you — are simply repeating something you heard on the internet without giving thought where that “information” might have originated; or saying something without considering that the way you’re saying it might not be okay, might be something you think is okay because you’ve heard someone else do it, who heard it from someone else, who maybe…learned it from Rush Limbaugh? Yeah, you’re making us all sicker. Think about it: terms like “commie,” or “war-monger,” no matter how much you might claim that you are “just being honest” by using them to label the candidate who isn’t yours, have never been used by anyone who had respect for the opposition, or who wanted to give a fair airing to the issues. They were developed out of a desire to bend the truth to serve a purpose, usually to cause damage or stifle opposition. In our political era, I could point my finger at the worst of the right-wing — the birthers, the climate-deniers, the anti-choice activists — as examples of those who have become adept at using such language to tell lies and make them sound like the truth, but that’s just the most recent version of the phenomenon. It’s propaganda, friends, plain and simple, and we humans have had a thing for it forever. Never before, though, could it be spread so widely and so quickly and so far from the source as to make it nearly untraceable, and never before, in my lifetime, have I seen people seem so credulous and unquestioning when it comes to repeating it verbatim.
Yes, I think opposing new trends is generally wrong and pointless. We need to try and see the good in them, beyond the confines of what small amount of change our small brains can handle. This one, though, is just a new spin on a bad old story, and I find it hard to believe that anything good can possibly come of it. If this is how the “right” candidate wins, we still all lose.
So I know everybody’s doing it, but don’t. Think for yourself. Don’t stoop. Be better than that.