By Robert Craig Baum
Last year proved that normalcy and civility are not the same thing. The end of the pandemic only ushered in the Age of Rage. Just how did we get here?
Was it when the sons of Paul Wellstone (DFL-Minnesota) did not accept the White House offer to have Dick Cheney attend their father’s memorial in October 2002? Or was it Patrick Buchanan’s summer 1992 culture-war declaration against Bill Clinton? Was it Watergate? Did it start while the nation grieved the slaughter of national leaders like King and both Kennedys, in the ‘60s?
Perhaps it’s all of the above, and that too many political skirmishes have weakened our national immunity against hate. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of coming together, everyone locked down and trenched in on their side. Republicans peddled election lies designed to distract us as our constitutional rights vanished on state and federal levels. Democrats responded with snark and sass but no substance.
With so much leaning into rage, just how do we break the spell, the you started it/no, you started it charade? We can’t go back. But we need to try to pull these recent threads through history to unravel our deeply entangled political views. We need to walk away from a dead-end thinking, logical dissonance and baseless accusation. We need to exit the Age of Rage.
Maybe one way out is to stop believing everything we see or read on social media. (We know better. We do. So, stop acting like we don’t.) Maybe when we find that article or meme or viral TikTok video that provokes outrage, we should pause for a moment and ask how that very particular mediated bit of content — content that has been sieved through an algorithm to incite us to click — got to our screens in the first place. Another way out is for us to stop empowering biased people and news organizations and shameless influencers, all of whom are paid to embellish the truth and to excite.
In order for the human experiment to continue — and maybe even flourish — we must establish a baseline for what we accept as acceptable. Maybe when we find ourselves reacting to a post, we need to revisit Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative and act only according to universal truths. Or, as my wife, Michelle Mielewski Baum, just said, “Act like your mother is in the room.” Maybe revisit the timeless axis of rhetoric — feeling, logic, and reason.
Maybe it starts by all of us admitting we are all broken in some fundamental ways, just like our systems.
Or maybe it’s simpler than all that. Maybe we should do what Jonah of the “VeggieTales” movie told the Ninavites to do: “Stop it!”