If you want to lose faith in humanity, just glance at a few of the many angry comments posted on social media, especially the ones posted under a political column. Whatever else Twitter and the online comments sections are, they serve as platforms for hate, slander and stupidity.
By now we all know that thanks to social media everyone can speak out, now everyone has a voice, even those who traditionally had no real outlet to express their dissatisfaction with politicians, the culture, or almost anything else. That’s the good news. It’s also the bad news. Now anyone with access to the Internet can add to the sludge already polluting what passes for our national conversation.
I’ve been thinking about this since word came out that John McCain, who is 81 and has brain cancer, doesn’t want President Trump to attend his funeral. Here’s how the story broke in the New York Times:
“His intimates have informed the White House that their current plan for his funeral is for Vice President Mike Pence to attend the service to be held in Washington’s National Cathedral but not President Trump, with whom Mr. McCain has had a rocky relationship.”
It appears that Senator McCain has chosen not to forgive and forget. Donald Trump, you’ll remember, mocked McCain’s agonizing years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. And he did it simply to score a few cheap political points. But that’s just one example. Donald Trump is needlessly nasty to lots and lots of people. He’s divisive whenever it suits his purpose.
And it’s ironic, if not downright hypocritical, for Donald Trump’s loyal fan club to be mad about McCain’s decision, given that their hero the president rarely forgives or forgets any slight against him. But they’re mad nonetheless. And not just mad, but vile.
Here’s a common sentiment aimed at McCain, put out on Twitter: “just die already & stop talking about it! We’re looking fwd to it.”
And there’s this: “WHO CARES IF TRUMP IS NOT AT McCAIN’S FUNERAL AS LONG AS McCAIN IS THERE.”
Or how about this: “WE WANT HIM DEAD RIGHT NOW!!!!!!”
We can’t know how many of these repulsive losers are spewing hate in defense of their beloved leader, the president. And Donald Trump can’t be held responsible for what his nastiest supporters say and do. But it would be naïve to pretend that President Trump isn’t an inspiration to a lot of these people. He feeds on their alienation. They play off of each other. They bring out the worst in each other.
(And then there’s a presidential aide who apparently offered up this tasteless supposed joke, referring to McCain’s opposition to CIA nominee Gina Haspel: “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.” The president so far has had no comment on that.)
It’s nobody’s business, of course, except McCain’s who he wants or doesn’t want at his funeral. For what it’s worth, if I were a public figure, I wouldn’t want Donald Trump at my funeral either. Yes, politics are not for the faint of heart, but Donald Trump crosses every line of civility out there.
Only such a man would be unwelcome at the funeral of a member of his own political party, a service that will be held not far from the White House.
Social media didn’t create the polarization that is dividing Americans. It just made it worse. Hate mongers were always out there, but it wasn’t until commentary was “democratized” – opened up to one and all – that the slime became part of the public conversation.
Maybe we’re better off when they have a way to let off steam. Maybe tweeting despicable messages is a better alternative than to have them stew in the dark corners of their basements. Who knows how that would end up.
The good news is that these people are not the majority. Not by a long shot. Even those who have legitimate differences with John McCain on matters of policy, even many of those who voted for Mr. Trump, understand that wishing McCain would “die already” crosses a line that separates decent Americans from the goons who don’t know the meaning of reasonable, honest criticism.
The bad news is that once that was a bright line.