We all know that politics is toxic these days but from time to time, an unguarded comment lets slip just how vicious the political arena has become. That was the case over the weekend when a writer for comedian Stephen Colbert’s show applauded the fact that Brett Kavanaugh’s life had been “ruined.”
In a Saturday afternoon tweet, Ariel Dumas opined, “Whatever happens, I’m just glad we ruined Brett Kavanaugh’s life.”
Within hours, Dumas deleted the tweet but the thought process that was behind it remains all too common on both sides of the political spectrum. Political disagreement has morphed into a scorched earth mentality in which the attitude is if you disagree with us, we will destroy you. Even if we lose, you lose because your reputation, your business, your family will be in ruins.
Ironically, Stephen Colbert has decried the current state of politics in a monologue that might have been written by Dumas herself. On November 9, 2016, Colbert said, “So how did our politics get so poisonous? I think it's because we overdosed, especially this year. We drank too much of the poison. You take a little bit of it so you can hate the other side. And it tastes kinda good. And you like how it feels. And there's a gentle high in the condemnation.”
I think that Colbert was right. The poisonous political discourse is like an addictive drug. It isn’t enough to disagree with the opposite on policy. We ascribe bad motives to them and claim they are out to destroy the country. This makes us feel better about ourselves as well as getting results in the form of turning out the base and generating views and clicks. But, like crack and meth, we have to up our dosage of extremism and anger to get the same high and the same result. The crisis never ends. These days the fate of the Republic hinges on every election. For every overreaction, there is an unequal but opposite overreaction.
A separate but related problem is that if we assume that people on the other side of the political spectrum are evil people who want to ruin the country and deserve to be destroyed, it makes it pretty tough to work together to accomplish anything. Is it any wonder that Congress is stalemated and attempts to build the bipartisan compromises that we have celebrated throughout our history are denounced as traitorous? The current political climate in which almost any significant legislation is passed by bare majorities on near-partisan votes long predates the Trump Administration.
Likewise, the phrase, “the politics of personal destruction,” was made popular during the Clinton Administration, but the strategy of razing an opponent’s reputation can be traced, at least in the modern era, to the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Robert Bork. Regardless of which side began the strategy, both sides have used it to their own advantage and both are complicit in the degradation of political discourse.
To her credit, Dumas not only deleted the tweet but apologized as well. In another tweet the following day, she wrote, “The last couple of weeks have been hard for the country and for me personally. The complexity of frustration, anger and sadness can’t be accurately conveyed on twitter, and I regret my tone-deaf attempt at sarcasm in the wake of it.”
I applaud Ms. Dumas’s apology and hope that it makes her and others rethink how they view the other side. Partisans who make personal attacks and pine for the personal destruction of their political adversaries should take a step back and remind themselves that the people on the other side are Americans too and that the vast majority of us want what is best for our country. We aren’t going to get the best by making politics so toxic that we can’t even talk to each other.
Chill out, America. Justice Brett Kavanaugh isn’t going to turn the clock back to 1942 as one liberal tweeter alleged. We also survived net neutrality and quitting the Paris Accords. Contrary to predictions from the right, the Affordable Care Act also did not kill the Republic. Neither did Dodd-Frank, NAFTA, the NDAA or Jade Helm.
America is resilient. We have faced worse as a country and survived. Both sides need to tone down their rhetoric, but this too shall pass.
Originally published on The Resurgent