Outrage Nation – Enough Already

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/11/14/outrage-nation-enough-already/

Dan Crenshaw, the maligned American hero and Republican congressman-elect, followed up his appearance on Saturday Night Live this past weekend with a column in The Washington Post that is must-reading for political commentators everywhere.

Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost his right eye to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, graciously accepted in person this past Saturday night an apology for way-beyond-the-pale comments a comedian on the NBC show had made about him a week before. He also offered ways for civilians and veterans to come together in the common American cause.

But now he has gone further.

In the column Wednesday, Crenshaw described being inundated with text messages criticizing the shots the comedian had taken at Crenshaw on Sunday, November 4, the day after the show aired.

As the victim of unjustifiable aggression and as an extraordinarily sympathetic figure, Crenshaw had a lot of power at that moment. How he has chosen to use it in the 11 days since is extraordinary.

Here, for instance, is his reaction to people saying to him that “some lines still shouldn’t be crossed”:

“I agreed. But I also could not help but note that this was another chapter in a phenomenon that has taken complete control of the national discourse:  outrage culture. It seems like every not-so-carefully-worded public misstep must be punished to the fullest extent, replete with soapbox lectures and demands for apologies. Anyone who doesn’t show the expected level of outrage will be labeled a coward or an apologist for bad behavior. I get the feeling that regular, hard-working, generally unoffended Americans sigh with exhaustion — daily.”

Indeed, the National Pillory is set up every time there’s a new public outrage – even if it’s not all that outrageous. The self-righteous throw rotten vegetables at the person, while most other people avert their eyes.

Now, wrong statements should be corrected and ugly statements should be called what they are. But sense of proportion seems to be an endangered species.

The over-the-top reactions to public missteps reflect deep divisions in American society over what we should believe and how we should act on it. Those differences aren’t going away any time soon. But Crenshaw offers an approach that ought to be part of every freshman week orientation at every college in America:

“How, then, do we live together in this world of differing ideas? For starters, let’s agree that the ideas are fair game. If you think my idea is awful, you should say as much. But there is a difference between attacking an idea and attacking the person behind that idea. Labeling someone as an “-ist’ who believes in an ‘-ism’ because of the person’s policy preference is just a shortcut to playground-style name-calling, cloaked in political terminology. It’s also generally a good indication that the attacker doesn’t have a solid argument and needs a way to end debate before it has even begun.”

National and local debates over public policy and other matters are essential. They should continue.

Let’s, though, imagine a world disagreements are primarily over ideas, not people — and where it’s at least conceivable that the person who says the worst thing at the worst time can someday share a drink and a laugh with us.