The level of political rhetoric in the U.S. today is in the sewer. And it’s mostly our, the citizenry’s, fault.
Yes, high-ranking politicians at every level of government do, on occasion, lob verbal Molotov cocktails out into the air we breathe.
Yes, the political parties twist talking points into memes with the most polarizing language and images imaginable (until they outdo themselves the next week).
Yes, the extreme right- and left-wing propaganda “news” sites and radio talk shows sometimes spread blatant lies to advance their agendas — even if that agenda is simply to become highly rated stars in their own micro-universes.
They do all of those things because they know those messages work — and will be shared. We fall for it, spreading those messages far and wide, and not to mention completely for free.
But we hold all of the power to do what the sensible middle, and even the extremists, say they want: to have reasoned debate of the issues Americans disagree on.
The fact that we now communicate largely by shouts, jeers, hats, T-shirts, memes, bumper stickers and expletive-laden social media comments is rooted solely in our acceptance and participation. Because it’s “funny” or made us feel powerful, we the public started playing in the mud.
Which means we can stop.
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., was well-criticized for going light on his constituent outreach earlier in his term. Since changing his ways and scheduling more town halls, he has commonly been met with crowds that apparently want to punish him with yelling, finger-pointing and jeers.
Don’t think we believe deference should come with the job of being an elected leader. “Elected” means we are the bosses. But good bosses don’t berate — because they know it rarely works.
Likewise, when political arguments online become fact-free volleys of “Orange Clown” and “Killary,” no one is really listening. We’re just wallowing in muck that damages the collective conversation.
When a comedian poses with a prop severed head of the president or when a meme depicts that president as a hangman on the gallows with the caption “I’m ready for Hillary,” we are getting our jollies from incitements to violence. (Side note: If the word “snowflake” or phrase “he was asking for it” just popped into your head, you’re part of the problem.)
The message is simple: If we want a better political climate, we have to make it.
Have a beef with an elected official? Write a letter to the editor or the lawmaker’s office. Make a sign. Picket. Organize. Tell others about it without ALL CAPS, a photo with words on it, or !!!!!!. Hey, maybe even vote or volunteer for a campaign.
To be clear, we adamantly support the American right to disagree with any elected or appointed official, even loudly, even disruptively. But when vitriol is the only tool on the workbench, we can’t build a staircase into the light.
Let’s think for ourselves, then speak for ourselves in a way that could genuinely advance a point of view. Isn’t that what all the yelling is about?
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ST. CLOUD TIMES