Guest Commentary

Savage rhetoric mars the promise of the America I chose to move to

Electronic rock artist Gary Numan
Electronic rock artist Gary Numan Invision/AP

Here’s a question: If you saw a man trapped in a burning car, would you ask how he voted before risking your life to rescue him? Of course not. Underneath all the hostility in these troubled times I believe strongly that we still care for each other. We’ve just become lost somehow — a magnificent, remarkable country suddenly at war with itself.

Savage insults now fly thick and fast across social media, across neighborhoods, across streets. People seem to have lost the ability to see an opposing opinion as a legitimate point of view. Modern discourse is brutal, cruel and absolutely unyielding. It now seems fair game to crudely attack people you disagree with, even amongst those at the highest level. Offending others seems to have become an enjoyable pastime, a daily entertainment for many. Gloating is the new happy face.

How can this be a good thing? Do we really want people to suffer simply because we disagree with them? Surely not. What’s happened to respect, to kindness, to common courtesy? It’s all deep lines in the sand now — “us” and “them.” And that’s as sad and destructive as it is frightening and intimidating.

Awful behavior and language, the sort of thing we would rightly punish our children for, is now commonplace in every community. It’s accepted, forgiven and excused, even in the very highest office in the land. But respect matters. It has to. Insulting people you disagree with rather than pointing out the flaws in their arguments simply proves you have no point of your own to discuss.

It’s just ugly talk. Ugly talk masquerading as “saying it like it is” is no more honest than any other way of talking. But ugly talk is insidiously contagious. It creates a crudeness that leads to ignorant conversation and, inevitably, to confrontation. It fixes nothing and helps no one.

When our politicians hurl insults at each other, when they accuse the other side not just of being wrong but of deliberately trying to harm America, what signal does that send to the rest of us? This blatant disregard for the truth, this level of reckless vitriol and highly aggressive rhetoric, is shocking and dangerous. And it’s filtering down to street level. Hate crime is soaring, attacks on minorities are rampant and the “us” and “thems” are more entrenched than ever.

It has proven to be horrifyingly easy in recent times to demonize people who are “different.” To band together in noisy groups and scream hatred at them. To make them the enemy, be it religion, color, sexual orientation, being foreign, even the media. If you are not like us, you are one of them. If you don’t agree with us, think like us, you are one of them. When did that happen? How can that happen?

How can democracy function at all when the two parties are behaving with such a vicious abandonment of common decency? Whom are we supposed to look up to, to follow? Whom can we trust when lies flow so freely and no one seems to care? There is no higher standard being set. There is no standard at all — just a long drag through the mud, kicking each other as we go. This cannot be the America we want, an America to be proud of.

It is not a terrible thing to have a different point of view, but it is terrible when we become too scared to voice it for fear of insult or violence. To accept that others might feel differently and discuss the best way forward is surely the right path to take.

America is an extraordinary country, for so long a beacon in the dark for truth and fairness. That’s why my family and I immigrated here. It’s a tragedy beyond words to see it tearing itself apart like this.

I’m absolutely not taking sides here. Love President Donald Trump or hate him, Republican or Democrat — it doesn’t matter. We must all find a way to talk to each other again, to listen to each other, to respect each other.

Democracy is bleeding, and only we can stop it.

Electronic rock musician Gary Numan lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three daughters.

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