The Death of Civility: No Respect for Those Who Disagree

Tonight, I went to a nice bar/restaurant to get out for a decent meal, a glass of wine, and some great people watching.  Little did I know that the whole evening would be cut short by an over-bearing neanderthal who watches waaaay to much Fox News.  It’s happened to me before.  The weird thing is, it always comes out of the blue, and I’m always shocked.  I’m not sure why I’m shocked; I guess I never learn.

The evening started out pleasant enough; sitting down at the bar, I ordered a nice pinot noir and some sliders.  I exchanged pleasantries with an older gentleman a couple seats over, and we were watching the local NBA game.  He was an attorney, I’m in the energy business, etc., etc, so on and so forth.  All was well.  Then, HE walked in.  You can almost always recognize them on site (Lord knows I’ve had plenty of unwelcome encounters with them): late sixties, early seventies, white, (of course), retired and accustomed to being noticed and respected.  He sat down between us, greeted the attorney, obviously familiar with him, barely noticed me, which was fine.  He then ordered TWO Diet Cokes and a double vodka on the rocks.  To each his own, I guess.  He started slurping the first DIet Coke, immediately filling it back to the top with vodka and ice.  In about 5 minutes, both Diet Cokes were gone, along with the mixed-in vodka, and he was ordering another setup.  The bartender dutifully complied, lining the glasses up as directed.  Slurping and mixing recommenced.

During the odd vodka/diet drink ablutions, he continuously berated the attorney about being a liberal Democrat, while at the same time inviting him to the fundraiser of a hometown Senate candidate, who happened to be a Democrat, but who was also a personal friend.  I was staying out of the conversation, pretending to be watching basketball.  Finally, he turned to me and asked if I wanted in on the fundraiser, I politely declined, mentioning that I, too, was a liberal Democrat, and that I had plenty to do with other races, including President Obama’s.  Like flipping a switch, he went to DEFCON 4 and started into launch mode, fueled by vodka.  First, he said he was tolerant of other views, blah, blah, but predictably, the conversation rapidly deteriorated.  What was not surprising was that the more of the vodka/diet coke concoction he drank, the more stupid I apparently became.

He launched into all the normal rants, from Obama’s lack of qualifications, to weird conspiracy theories about how he’s trying to take over the courts, and other idiotic assertions.  I replied that I found these assertions to be far fetched and lacking a basis in fact, to which he responded with furious stirring of his drink, dumping ice cubes all over the bar and his lap, and telling me that I simply didn’t understand how terrible things are under Obama.  He ranted about how Obama is stacking the Justice Department with “his” kind of people.  I let that one go, with its obvious implications, but did ask if he criticized President Bush when he stacked the Justice Department with ultra-conservatives, firing attorneys who refused to prosecute political enemies.  Ice cubes and Diet Coke went everywhere out of displeasure with me.  He began roaring at me and the attorney about how stupid we were and he knew what Obama was up to, unable to articulate exactly what that meant.  Bartenders and other patrons began to notice.  Not willing to surrender what was left of my evening, I quietly paid my bill, slipped off my bar stool, and left him ranting and raving.  Jesus.

As I drove home, recounting the whole scene privately, I wondered how it has now become so common for a perfect stranger can be a perfect asshole to another perfect stranger, in public.  I knew the answer, of course; after years of absolutist rhetoric from the right, fortified by 24/7 propaganda from Fox News and hate radio, civility has been murdered, especially when you add alcohol.  You can see this most obviously in Congress, where Republicans are perfectly happy to gridlock the entire US government in a blatant attempt to make the other side look bad so they can again grasp for power 4 years later.  You can hear it from party leaders and talking heads when they actually say that the President and those who disagree with their particular view of the world are simply stupid, asserting that those views are illegitimate.  The fallout, of course, is emotional outrage simmering just below the surface; it boils over at least provocation, usually over some non-existent slight.  Like tonight, affluent white guys, living on a steady diet of Fox News, roar their outrage over fake issues.

The damage is obvious: the government is dysfunctional, and conservatives feel perfectly free to attack everyone with whom they disagree politically because that perceive a siege against their way of life.  Such is the state of our society today.  The gap widens as the right moves even farther to the right, using fake outrage as the motivation for this continuous migration.  The victim is civility, but also years of progress in civil and personal rights, privacy, and economic progress.  That’s how issues of women’s health and choice come to the forefront decades after they had become settled law.  I know of no solution to this phenomenon, especially when the vast majority of Americans simply spending their lives surviving in an ever-shrinking world of opportunity, uneducated about why their opportunities are shrinking.  The GOP, effectively using the media, have opened this Pandora’s Box.  How it gets closed is in the hands of the People when they begin not accepting this kind of absolutism.  We have a long way to go.


  1. offshore778 says

    You hit the nail on the head. I also find it particularly annoying that these conversations are nearly unavoidable. I literally cannot even complain that my lawn service did a poor job without someone blaming Obama. I shit you not, that has really happened.

  2. Shortstuff says

    I had someone, a couple of years ago, when I made a comment about one of my kids being out of work at that time, say “thanks a lot, Obama!” I promptly said, “He has nothing to do with it, and by the way, I am a liberal Democrat who supported, voted for, and still support the president”. She shut up quickly.
    Some of these a-clowns stub their toe and blame the guy in the White House.
    Damn, I am praying so hard that people wake up. But I am beginning to think you just can’t fix stupid. Not when they’re being fed a diet of pure bullshit from Faux News and they lap it up like braindead sheep. I have a friend whose car was keyed and we’re pretty sure it was due to the “Obama” sticker on the back.
    I overheard one of my colleagues saying “I just love George Bush” the other day. I just told myself to keep my mouth shut. I am surrounded by Teapublicans. One of these days I am going to get totally pissed off and I’ll wear my bright blue “Obama” cap to work. Watch a few heads explode.

  3. Scott Barzilla says

    I guess I do that too though. When some people ask why I am out of work I’ll say I was Rick Perried. The truth probably resides a little closer to home. I think this is a general epidemic that afflicts us as a people. Unfortunately, Obama is an acceptable scapegoat for far too many.

  4. ccdesan says

    I cannot support the position that this is all the fault of the right wing, and to suggest same is simply adding fuel to the fire. The problem exists uniformly across the board – rich and poor, liberal and conservative, gay and straight, educated and untutored. No one is exempt. As offensive as I find people like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, I am equally offended by someone like Joe Nocera – of no less illustrious an organ as the New York Times – calling conservatives terrorists with suicide vests during last year’s debt ceiling debates. Bill Maher could not be more disrespectful of conservatives who profess faith if he tried… and he does try, as hard as he can. No, it’s not just one side or the other. That said, while civility is moribund, I would hesitate to say it’s totally dead; there are many people, again all across the ideological spectrum, who are waging war against incivility in all facets of society. That these prevail, instead of the highly-paid attention whores who seem to garner most of the spotlight, is my most fervent hope.

  5. Bob Cavnar says

    I couldn’t disagree more. The right wing’s answer is ALWAYS “both sides do it”, and it’s simply untrue. Fox News (and all of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire) are on a 24/7 rampage against anything progressive. Over 90% of talk radio is radical hate speech from the right. You cite the NYT, but it was the NYT that peddled the WMD bullshit of the Bush administration in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.
    The Republicans are united in blocking all economic progress to damage the economy so Obama will lose the election. The House only meets 3 days a week now. The Senate GOP #1 goal is to make Barack Obama a one term president. I could go on and on, as the examples are legion.
    To assert that it’s the same on both sides is simply false.

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