It Down, Please
my antic fantasies of being a famous author Terry Gross has
to bone up on before interviewing on Fresh Air, I am sometimes
relieved that I write a mostly daisies-and-buttercups kind
of column for an alternative newspaper that doesn’t have a
staggeringly high circulation.
And that’s not because I’m modest. I’m not. Like anybody else
foolhardy enough to open their mouth in print, I have opinions
I feel are worth sharing. They’re small opinions, probably.
But I’m quite confident that, for the most part, I utter them
with dignity and a respectable amount of research for someone
who doesn’t have a staff. Or even a dog.
But I think what I’m going to start calling in are my credentials.
My MDiv. My collar and stole. These are my certifications
that enable me to meet Glenn Beck’s standards of what defines
a socialist and a Nazi: ordination to the ministry and a belief
in the importance of social justice. (Ooops, I just said it:
Still—I’m getting ahead of myself.
My relief that I write a column only slightly more daring
that Kristi Gustafson’s (and Kristi, I’m totally with you
on the Capri pants) is based on the fact that I don’t get
much hate mail.
Nevertheless, factoring in the relatively little amount I’ve
received over the course of 20 years still yields a measurable
amount. And all of it has been consistently vapid.
Yes, all of it. I’ve yet to get intelligent hate mail.
I’ve received intelligent responses from people who disagree
with me on one thing or another. Reasoned disagreement is
a good thing. It’s part of a social dialogue. That’s why I
usually write back to such readers. Because they took the
time to use their brains in the service of civil discourse
rather than railing and name-calling.
Anyway, it’s always been my policy not to address personalized
vitriol in a public column. That’s because I don’t want to
flatter the letter writers. But I’m making a marginal exception
here. In the past I’ve been called names by people whom I’m
sure would not have the social indecency to say to my face.
I’ve been labeled, pigeon-holed and peppered with pejoratives.
And mostly the hate mail is anonymous.
This time was no different. It was a screed as long as a column.
And the letter writer, who was so quick to characterize my
writing as stupid, bigoted, hypocritical and error-laden,
my social outlook as snobby, proto-Nazi and elitest, did not
have the apparent nerve to sign his own name, though he did
use my name with condescending adjectives appended to it in
The issue was health care, nominally. But the anger was wide-ranging.
Wide-ranging anger has become the current social phenomenon.
It’s toxic. And frankly, terrifying.
Bill Clinton, speaking three days before the 15th anniversary
of the Oklahoma City bombing, said, “What we learned from
Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or that
we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold, but
that the words we use really do matter. . . . They fall on
the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected
and the unhinged alike. . . . And what we advocate, commensurate
with our position and responsibility, we have to take responsibility
for. We owe that to Oklahoma City.”
Murial Kane, writing for The Raw Story, notes the ways various
news outlets covered this story:
The New York Daily News said “Former President Clinton: Tea
Party OK, but anti-Obama rage may inspire another Oklahoma
bombing,” while going on to emphasize Clinton’s statement
that “this Tea Party movement can be a healthy thing if they
are making us justify every dollar of taxes we raise and every
dollar of money we’ve spent.”
Fox News, by contrast, headlined their story, “Bill Clinton
Warns Tea Party Anger Could Incite Right-Wing Extremism” and
went to state that “Clinton appeared to draw implicit parallels
between Tea Partiers . . . and the far-right militia veterans
that carried out the 1995 attack.”
And right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh reacted to Clinton’s
remarks by pontificating, “If there is a future incident such
as Oklahoma City the blame is squarely Clinton’s, on the shoulders
of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who I’m sure is coordinating
Clinton’s appearance on this.”
The perpetuation of anger, the relentless blame-laying (Limbaugh
also mentioned that liberals—‘they’—“are out to destroy western
civilization”) serves no common purpose and accomplishes no
The 1965 movie, Morituri, by German director Bernhard Wicki
is a cat-and-mouse game with an underlying anti-war theme.
And at its most poignant, as well as intelligent moment, Yul
Brynner, playing the embittered captain of a Nazi cargo ship,confronts
his blood-thirsty first officer: “You young men,” he says,
pausing, “who keep the world breathless! It’s your time, I
know. But to realize your dream, you’ll need something more
than brutality. You’ll need—if you can manage it—a little
Those words have never been truer than they are now.