By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
Cue up the laugh emoji and call me a virtue-signaling snowflake, but I’m one of those old school farts who despairs at the tide of execrable behavior that has swamped the nation.
Hillary Clinton saying that half of Donald Trump’s supporters belong in “a basket of deplorables” was a politically disastrous statement, but it seemed to drive nearly all of them to prove her right by celebrating a sneering disregard for others. “F--- your feelings” became a rallying slogan on the right. “F--- Joe Biden” flags and stickers sprouted on houses and cars. So much for public decorum.
The Republican Party has embraced this large, unsavory base — millions of American voters — and civility is vanishing from Congress. The heckling of President Biden during his State of the Union address is just one example. Along with personal attacks, outright falsehoods and hypocrisy are seen as useful tools for pursuing one’s agenda.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t enough that Jan. 6 rioters, still defended by the GOP, became murderously violent in their so-called “political discourse.” Some felt compelled to defecate in halls of the Capitol while others proudly posted their despicable antics on social media.
All across our society, crass has replaced class as something to admire and emulate. If you can’t rise to someone else’s level, you can always drag them down to yours. I feel myself being sucked into this black hole of nastiness, my tolerance for nitwits dwindling while my impatience and sarcasm grow.
It feels like many people have stopped aspiring to greater things and chosen to take the easy low road where others are treated rudely, even viciously, in public places. I thought about this when Eagles fans ran amok in Philadelphia after their team lost the Super Bowl to Kansas City, chanting “F--- the Chiefs” and battling with police. “It’s a Philly thing,” is how they justify hideous behavior.
Philadelphia has long been notorious — in the 1960s, Phillies pitcher Bo Belinsky famously said the city’s fans “would boo funerals, an Easter egg hunt, a parade of armless war vets and the Liberty Bell” — but other places, such as New York City, have plenty of rowdy, mean-spirited fans. However, the ones in Philly are openly embracing ugliness as matter of civic pride.
It’s horrifying to see many people accept crudity and selfishness while virtue, humility, inclusion and expertise are scorned and ignorance is held up as knowledge. Thanks in large part to social media giving everyone a platform and exposure, notoriety has become a means of achieving fame (or infamy, which many think is equally good).
I would hate to be a parent trying to raise a kid to be honest, polite, respectful, kind, considerate, and intelligent in a time when liars and childish boors like Trump can become rich, powerful and even President of the United States and a charlatan like George Santos stalks the halls of Congress. Santos, who is now a perverse celebrity and the nation’s factory showroom floor of falsehood, has credited lying (which he calls “adding a bit of fluff” to his résumé) with getting him where he is today.
Danielle Lee Tomson, writing in Politico, describes Santos as “playing to the incentives of the attention economy, which exploded in the past decade. Those trying to shame Santos will find their words falling on deaf ears: For the Congressman, it is more important to be noticed than liked.”
Santos is the poster boy for the benefits of shamelessness. So what are the benefits of honesty, integrity, empathy and tact? If you try to live by the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you), why do you do it? Because it just feels right or makes you feel good and the world a better place? There are benefits in it for you that come back in kind? The threat of punishment (from a deity or earthly authorities) if you don’t? All or some of the above?
What does living that way guarantee other than you not being a louse? At least by being honest, you don’t have to spend time trying to remember which lie you told to whom. But how much does that really matter now? BS can be very beneficial and very lucrative.
Alex Jones has made a fortune by broadcasting the most hideous falsehoods.
Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham are paid handsome salaries to “report” and comment on things they know aren’t true.
Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen has brought him hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from those who want to believe it despite rulings in 60-plus court cases, recounts, audits, several investigations, a grand jury report in Georgia, and an in-depth study by researchers Trump hired that found there is no evidence of fraud, tampering with voting machines or other chicanery.
Virtue (behavior showing high moral standards) is the hard road in life. It’s easier to be a nasty phony. It takes more than many people have in them to admit mistakes, sincerely apologize and be a “stand up” guy or gal when they can just insist they were right and good despite all evidence to the contrary, cook up their own alternative facts to support their claims, thumb their noses, and go their merry way without any consequences that concern them.
I’m reminded of Trump and others like him whenever the kids on the school bus I drive insist they haven’t misbehaved, even though there is a mountain of video and audio to the contrary. Sometimes I wonder if they even know the difference between good and bad and if it’s all relative and a personal choice that ultimately makes no difference in the end.
I saw great irony in one of the recent “He gets us” TV commercials (funded by anti-LGBTQ billionaire/Hobby Lobby founder David Green and other right wingers) that claimed “Jesus didn’t want us to act like adults.” Not to worry. We aren’t. We’re behaving like spoiled kids, throwing tantrums when we don’t get our way, bullying others, saying anything we want and demanding that the world revolve around us.
Only a Jesus could gladly suffer children like this.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.