By Lori Borgman
An “Old West and New West” cartoon shows the “Old West” side with a cowboy holding his hands above his holster, ready to draw. It’s labeled Gunslinger.
The “New West” side shows a man in jeans, T-shirt and a bandana with globs of mud in both hands and more globs of mud at his feet. It’s labeled Mudslinger.
It would be even funnier if it weren’t so true.
We’ve taken mudslinging to new heights. Make that new lows.
If you don’t like someone’s stand on an issue these days, start calling them names. Fascist is a popular choice, as are racist and bigot. Liar, moron and homophobe are in the top 10 as well. If none of those do the trick, pull out the big guns — call somebody a Nazi.
The smear has become standard operating procedure. Don’t attack the argument; attack the person espousing the argument.
And we’re the grown-ups. Well, in name at least.
It’s like the entire nation needs a time-out to contemplate incivility.
Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill went to the mat in vehement disagreement over policy. They often made witty but disparaging comments about one another (name-calling light). Yet at the close of many work days they sat down for drinks together in the White House.
Today, opposing factions would be more tempted to throw drinks on one another. Our incivility is all-encompassing — from Walmart brawls to both sides of the political spectrum.
The internet and social media have become cesspools of incivility. The pseudo-anonymity of posting online serves as a cover for knee-jerk, brash and reckless. Post now, regret later. Or never. People say things online that they would never say to someone face-to-face. (Hopefully.)
Online media outlets are forced to close the comments section on articles due to incivility of readers’ remarks. Someone posts a comment relative to the article. A second poster questions the IQ of the first poster, a third poster slams the second poster for slamming the first poster and it’s a slugfest.
On Twitter, you can barroom brawl in 140 characters or less.
Incivility shuts guest speakers out of venues on college campuses, places that were once bastions of the free exchange of ideas. Odd, isn’t it? We punish bullying in some quarters but give it free rein in others.
Incivility is why some are contemplating discontinuing town hall meetings. You can’t have a public forum when nobody can hear what anybody else is saying over the din of rabble rousers. Those who can crank up the volume the most seem to be winning.
Or are they? When incivility wins, everybody loses. When incivility becomes standard fare, civil people pull back. They want no part. Mudslinging, hurling insults and vitriol are degrading and embarrassing to all.
We don’t have to agree with one another. We don’t even have to like one another. But in the name of survival, we do have to be respectful of one another.
Lori Borgman is an Indianapolis columnist. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.