I have a habit of listening to talk radio every day at my office until I feel sufficiently irritated or sad, then I put on some Tracy Chapman or Sarah McLachlan or Indigo Girls and relive my Lilith Fair days for an hour or so, and then I go back to talk radio.
Earlier this week, Dan Mandis, a host on Nashville's conservative 99.7 talk station, invited the owner of a gas station on the outskirts of the city onto his program. Why the interest in this local entrepreneur? He recently had gained some national notoriety when he chose to use the electronic sign outside his store to proclaim "#TrumpThatB**ch" and "The only pu**y Trump ever grabbed was Paul Ryan." So sweet. These messages were a long line in a series of political statements the owner made on his marquee, but this time Shell decided to pull its gas from the store. Understandably, the company did not want to be associated with such vile language.
Dan Mandis saw things differently than those liberal America-hating Communists at Shell. He brought the owner on his program to offer support, to encourage his listeners to patronize the restaurant that is connected to this gas station and that (sadly) already was serving a record number of customers in the wake of the controversy.
This gas station proprietor presumably wants to "Make America Great Again." Can you IMAGINE this type of sign being considered acceptable in the society of the 1950s or any other time in our country's history that the owner thought was "great"? No way. (Side note -- America is great. And was great. It was founded with flaws and continues to have them, but it's an amazing and beautiful experiment.)
There was not enough Natalie Merchant on my playlist to wipe my mental palate clean after that interview.
Where has the civility gone?
If this gas station owner has a daughter . . . or a son . . . or basic human kindness . . . how can he find it acceptable to call someone a bitch? How are there customers laughing about his sign and supporting him with their dollars while also proclaiming Christianity as a cornerstone of why they vote like they do? It doesn't make any sense to me.
And there is certainly blame to be had on both sides of the aisle in this twisted election. I'm not a Trump supporter. The thought of him being president with access to the nuclear codes keeps me awake at night and troubles me for my children. (To be fair, I don't get that much more sleep with the thought of Clinton being president.) But, I would never call him an "orange baboon" or a "f**king Nazi" or an "a**hole" like I have read from his detractors time and again. Because why does that make sense? How does this forward any kind of useful dialogue? For me, any constructive arguments you may have get lost in the name calling.
It is clear that this campaign has allowed the ugliest parts of both the left and right to come bubbling to the surface and the view is terrifying. I'm sure we all could provide dozens of examples of the ugliness of this campaign, so here are just a couple.
I visited Governor Kasich's Facebook page this morning and read his post thanking the Cleveland Indians for a great season and congratulating the Chicago Cubs. The comments section (which, I will give you, is widely accepted as the home for the worst our computer keyboards have to offer) was filled with statements calling Kasich a traitor and a pu**y and a douche and a lying sack of s**t. So you disagree with his decision not to support Trump. Fine. But this is how you express your objections? (By the way -- Kasich/Hogan in 2020. Let's make it happen.)
Juan Hernandez of Santa Clara, CA earned a broken nose and mild concussion back in June after getting attacked and beaten by protesters simply because he had decided to attend a Trump rally and learn more about the candidate . Many dismissed his injuries, saying that it's Trump's fault that his supporters are getting hurt because he encourages this violence. Isn't that victim blaming? And isn't that a bad thing?
A 62-year-old man was hit several times with a crowbar outside a Friendly's (ironic) restaurant in New Jersey. The perpetrator was a passing motorist who felt the need to get out of his car and confront the victim, who was wearing a Donald Trump t-shirt. I don't like who you are supporting for president . . . for that reason, I'm going to hit you with a metal stick. Makes sense.
At a rally last month in Virginia, a Trump supporter held up a photograph of Clinton with a bullseye painted over her face and the words "Killary Rotten Clinton" written underneath. At a Trump rally last December in Las Vegas, people in the crowd yelled out "Sieg Heil" and "light the motherf**ker on fire" as a protester was being removed by security. Just sit with those sentences for a moment. If they don't make you at the very least uncomfortable, I don't understand you.
I think these examples and the hundreds more like them speak to a problem much greater than any election but one that this campaign has exposed like never before. The root cause is the same as the reason that populations who have been dismissed or ignored for generations are protesting and sometimes rioting in our cities. The same reason that teenagers are beating one another and putting the fights on the internet. It's the same reason that reality shows in which people argue or hurt one another or fill their hours with the most mindless endeavors receive such high ratings.
Our collective soul is hurting. We don't know how we fit together anymore.
I believe that humans are naturally wired to crave community, to build relationships and to share their talents and interests for the betterment of others. There is a selfish motive behind our charity and our hugs for someone crying and our decision to pay for the coffee of the person behind us in line and our time spent building houses with Habitat . . . it feels good to do good, to have the sense that we are needed. I like how helping someone else makes me feel. I think it's OK to admit that is sometimes part of my motivation.
But, instead of fostering that community, our society has driven full steam ahead to isolation and walls and lack of human interaction. We no longer need to have a conversation with the cashier at Kroger; we just use the self checkout line. We don't have to see our neighbors while out Christmas shopping; we just order through Amazon and everything arrives at our doorstep. We build bigger homes with fancier gadgets and technology that make us need others less and less. We carry on more of our conversations through the screens of our computers and smartphones instead of while looking someone in the eye. We are left feeling alone and unappreciated and disconnected. We are losing the ability to have compassion for our neighbor because we are so out of practice. And the result, I believe, is what we are seeing in this election.
People are angry because they are not being heard, because they are not being respected, because they are not being loved, because they are not told of their worth or to respect the worth of others. I think every story that I shared in this post starts there.
Am I being naive about this? Do I need to stop listening to my Lilith Fair collection? Why do you think this election cycle is so ugly and violent?