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Turn It Down, Please

Despite 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: “social justice.”)

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 several places.

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 common good.

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 mercy.”

Those words have never been truer than they are now.

—Jo Page

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