We have become so intractable in our societal discourse that we can no longer tolerate even anyone who attempts to bridge the divide.
Case in point: Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker is defined as a moderate Republican because of his liberal social views on homosexuality and abortion. He is set to speak at a GOP conference this weekend that is connected to conservative interests. Keep in mind that Baker has in no way signaled that this indicates he is changing any policy position. Also bear in mind that this is not some extremist organization, but the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Yet, his mere decision to address this group has earned him opprobrium and a disinvitation from a prominent LGBT group’s event. His sin consists of planning to be in the same room as Sen. Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in Las Vegas, even though Baker has worked closely with the LGBT group in Massachusetts to advance some of its agenda, including increasing the number of state contracts going to businesses owned by LGBT people.1
How do we account for such an extreme reaction? Because the art of polite discourse is dead in the 21st century. It is no longer permissible to associate with or even converse with those who disagree with us. Our ideological opposites are enemies to be defeated. They must isolated, shunned, and cast out. We must crush their bones beneath our booted feet until we hear the lamentations of their women and children.
We are seeing the same when a state’s government passes a law that others find unacceptable, such as North Carolina’s new law that require people to use the bathrooms that correspond with their sex as determined by their DNA or Georgia’s unsuccessful and Mississippi’s successful attempts to pass a religious liberty law that acknowledges freedom of religion and prevents compelled speech in relation to, once again, homosexuality. In these cases, it is activist corporations and liberal politicians leading the charge to punish these states.
This is, by no means, limited to liberals, although it could be argued they have raised the activity to a high art, but conservatives too have succumbed to this temptation as well. Politicians and pundits and corporations who become ritually impure by association are also to be shunned. We even see this in the Catholic Church. If a bishop sits down with a liberal Protestant or prays with them, the long knives come out.
Back in a day not so long ago, Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill—no political bedfellows, they—could be seen hoisting beers together in a bar. They could disagree deeply over partisan policy positions by day, but still respect one another enough to break bread. Likewise, an individual could support a different political party from their neighbors and not be blackballed from the backyard barbecue.
To be sure, there has been political dirty pool in the past. There are plenty of examples of actual street violence between thugs employed by warring ward bosses and political operatives and threats against those who would break ethnic or class ranks to vote for a different candidate. But the current vitriol is of a different nature because it is so pervasive and goes beyond politics.
If I write on Facebook that I like Apple computers and you say you prefer Windows, the snarky comments come out. If I say I don’t like the TV show or movie or book or music that you like, it’s not simply a difference of taste. No, I must either be convinced through a barrage of argumentation or dismissed as a mentally damaged jerk.
What is the source of this “scorched earth” ideology? I claim it’s too complex to pin on a single cause. Part of the reason is that so much of the discourse has changed from relatively small differences in vision for how society should operate to desire for such fundamental change that it can’t be tolerated. When one side wants abortion as a form of freedom and the other side says it’s a violation of the very right to life, there can be no compromise. When one side says that male and female are malleable concepts based one’s own self-perception or by DNA beyond X/Y chromosome, while the other says that the whole DNA genome is what it is and ontology goes beyond biology, there can be no compromise. You can go down the line to marriage, the raising of children, racial identity and more.
“Wrongthink” must punished. Even the appearance of wrongthink must be punished too. And if Charlie Baker, who has been a friend of those who have pushed an extreme agenda, admits of even the possibility of talking to ideological enemies, then he has become an enemy too.
Go back and re-read George Orwell’s “1984” and despair at how close we have come to fulfilling that dystopian vision.
- You might note that the Republican Jewish group did not decide such actions did not earn Baker a disinvite from their meeting. ↩︎
- Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill: Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library | U.S. Government Work