The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

Cycles of Civility

10/31/2018

History teaches us that the current period of incivility we are experiencing is not unique.  In the 19th century, some Congressmen had fistfights on the floor of Congress and at least one pulled a gun on another.  Eventually, the cycle of civility returned to normal.  Regrettably, we have entered another cycle.

I think President Trump gets too much blame for the toxic culture we are experiencing.  Certainly, he deserves some blame, but this cycle of civility is different.  Incivility increased with Newt Gingrich’s instructions to the incoming class of 1995 to avoid the company of the opposition, who must be defeated at all costs.  Politics should be like football – wins and losses, not compromises?  Even their families were instructed to avoid the families of the opposition.  Up to that point, incivility might have been largely confined to the Beltway, but we had entered the world of mass media, where the petty issues of Washington could be pushed into the faces of everyday Americans.  To drive viewership and therefore advertising revenue, media looked for extremist positions and extremist personalities.  Incivility gets magnified by mass media.

Then, we entered the age of hyper-media, with the internet in general and social media in particular.  We can pick our own news.  We can easily and quickly follow the trail of our beliefs into a world of extremism.  The arrogance of Facebook, that they have no responsibility for whatever crazy untruths appear on their website, has worn thin.  Unfortunately, there are other websites with far more hurtful missions.  There are websites for every vile group of people.

I think social media get too little blame for the toxic culture we are experiencing.  At first, I assumed the internet was too vast and too fractured to be policed but noticed that China seems to be doing a pretty good job inside their country.  America would have to respect the First Amendment, but we could do the same.  It can be done!

Our leaders are not less civilized . . . we are!

Hopefully, the President will lead us out of this toxic incivility . . . if he can?

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