The uncivil nature of our age has reached new levels. The most recent examples: Sarah Huckabee Sanders asked to leave a Virginia restaurant because she works for President Trump; Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi bullied at a movie theater in Tampa; Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielson jeered at a restaurant; also jeered in a separate occurrence, White House official Stephen Miller.
In response, Congresswoman Maxine Waters urges followers to protest any officials of the Trump administration anytime they are seen in public. MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch states that by virtue of voting for Trump, you are standing at the border like a Nazi, sending select people to cells.
By this logic attacks on conservative political and public figures, and on their supporters, will continue and will increase. Cultural leaders and media figures are pushing for it.
Remember actor Peter Fonda? He recently tweeted that Barron Trump should be ripped from his mother’s arms and put in a cage with pedophiles, and that Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ children should be taken from her, placed in a cage and whipped.
Though Fonda later apologized, these comments had already made national news, and the only reason anyone paid any attention to them is because of who made them. Can you imagine his father, the late Henry Fonda, saying something like that? What is happening in our world?
First of all, the demise and diminishing of the institutions in our culture that soften rhetoric is notable. Churches, fraternal organizations and civic clubs have all lost members and influence. Starbucks came along a few decades ago promoting itself to be the “third place” on our lives. The first place was the home, the second place was work. Starbucks wanted to be that place where people gather, and community is formed.
It hasn’t worked. Union halls, bridge clubs, meeting halls, churches, etc., formerly provided this for our culture. All of these have faded, many have disappeared. Nothing has emerged to replace them. Today, politics and cultural movements tend to shape who we talk to, listen to and associate with. More and more we only move among those who echo our opinions.
Second, the availability of personal media platforms, not unlike this blog, has made it possible for anyone to put his or her opinion out there and find a following. Years ago, the only ones heard by the masses had to go through editors and producers who held them to certain standards. Not anymore.
Add to this the 24/7 news cycle. Formerly, there were several established pipelines – newspapers, news magazines, and the evening news. TV News had the story that night. The newspaper gave more detail the next morning. The news magazines provided even more detail and background information after a few days or weeks. At each step of the way journalistic standards were upheld by professional editors and producers whose jobs were on the line if they did not get it right.
Today, the one who talks the loudest is the one who is heard. Opinion is presented as indisputable fact, and instant availability removes any opportunity for editorial restraint.
Third, opinion has replaced truth in our culture. At least a sense of objective truth is indispensable for a civic society. If everyone understood that there was a standard to which they are held, it would help temper some of the worst rhetoric.
Our founding fathers dreamed of a new republic within the framework of a consensual Judeo-Christian ethic. Not everyone was Christian and agreed with this worldview, but its common acceptance gave a standard for the emerging American culture.
We are now living in a post-Christian society. Today, opinion is fact and morality has been reduced to personal preference. There is no truth standard beyond the assertion that there is no truth standard. Thus, if you uphold a truth standard, such as the Word of God, you are a narrow-minded bigot.
George Orwell was prophetic. “The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.”
Unfortunately, the uncivil nature of the public debate will continue and will likely grow coarser. It will take courage, but as believers, we must stand for truth and do so in love. With the shield of faith protecting you, stand your ground with the belt of truth firmly around you. Then do what the world will not expect – love unconditionally.