The quality of political discourse has deteriorated to the point where one must ask, is there any hope left for civil political conversation in America? Can this possibly be turned around, or will things continue to get progressively (no pun intended) worse.
There have always been fringe elements and intemperate people who do not know how to or refuse to conduct themselves appropriately in polite society. What we see now is something different. Social media and comment boards are a dumpster fire of name-calling, trolling and inflamed rage. Mostly they amount to a contest for making the most outrageous statement so as to achieve the most likes, upvotes or retweets.
Unfortunately, things get worse from there. On college campuses, speakers are shouted down and threatened with violence. People talk over one another on cable news. Politicians call each other names and make disingenuous accusations of one another to curry favor with their political base and to discredit their opponents. Patrons of restaurants are told to leave because of their political beliefs or are chased out, under threat of violence, by unruly mobs. Worse still is the tribal warfare in cities like Portland with self-proclaimed anti-fascists acting like Nazi brownshirts by beating up anyone they disagree with, on the grounds that, well, anyone who disagrees with an anti-fascist must, by definition, be a fascist. Makes sense, right?
So what’s going on here?
If you are looking for the single biggest cause of the current state of political tribalism of the United States, and the West in general, look no further than Herbert Marcuse.
In 1965 Herbert Marcuse published a paper titled Repressive Tolerance. Marcuse was a leader of the New Left and a member of the radical Frankfurt School, a faction of Marxism who blended traditional Marxtist philosophy with Freudian psychoanalytic theory. The result is every bit as bad as you can imagine, and worse. Like all radicals, his opinion of society was far worse than things really were. Unfortunately his limited imagination was dulled to the point of only being able to imagine how things could get better without being able to envision how his Marxist ideas could actually make things worse.
Marcuse was a refugee immigrant from Nazi Germany with a dreadfully low opinion of America (sound familiar). Rather than return to Germany, his goal was to remake American society (sound familiar). He had the theory that the dominant culture of the US made fundamental change impossible. His solution was repressive tolerance. His theory was that change could only be made through force, by exercising utter intolerance toward any idea opposed by the left.
Antifa, campus violence, race-bating, social media deplatforming of conservatives are all examples of repressive tolerance in action. As is political correctness. Making the claim that someone is engaging in hate speech or is racist is usually just a tool for shutting down ideas progressives don’t like. Language used by a progressive is frequently given a pass while the same words used by a conservative are met with dire consequences. Attempting to appeal to a progressives’ sense of justice and fair-play by explaining to them that there is a double standard is utterly senseless. The very point of repressive tolerance is to have a double standard – tolerance for ideas you like, repress ideas you don’t. Pointing out this double standard to the progressive simply communicates to him that he is doing a great job of applying the ideas behind Herbert Marcuse’s 1965 paper.
The ultimate goal of the progressive is to publicly destroy someone they oppose so totally and completely that it terrorizes all others from ever expressing that idea again. The strategies employed by the pro-gay marriage activists perfectly illustrates this strategy and has become the template used by all progressive activists since.
A perfect illustration of this is the treatment of Carrie Prejean in the 2009 Miss America contest. Prejean represented Miss California in the contest. The previous year California passed Proposition 8, which rendered same-sex marriage illegal. Militant gay activists were out for blood. They obtained records of those who donated money to Prop 8 and got them fired or business destroyed. They also managed to get gay activist and blogger, Perez Hilton, on the panel of judges for the 2009 Miss America pageant. Ms. Prejean was known to be a Christian and likely to oppose same-sex marriage. During the question portion of the contest, Ms. Prejean was asked by Mr. Hilton whether she thought same-sex couples should be permitted to marry. Now remember, 50% of voters in the liberal state of California just said no to that question. The question was specifically asked of Ms. California to make an example of her. As expected, she said no in as articulate a manner as a Ms. America contestant can be expected to, but she gave the “wrong” answer.
She lost the contest and was utterly destroyed in the press over the next several days. She was destroyed on cable news. She was destroyed in the mainstream press. The culture industry turned on her with the vengeance that the corrupt and powerful medieval church would reserve for the worst heretic. Were there not laws against it, she would have been burned at the stake in the public square. But since they couldn’t they did the next best thing, they “discovered” a sex tape and made it public so as to publicly humiliate and shame her. As the final assault, she was, of course, stripped of her Ms. California crown. This is the ultimate example of a well-coordinated attack with the express purpose of making an example of someone who dared to stand in opposition of a progressive objective. Mission accomplished, Americans got the message and those who opposed gay marriage were as likely to express it as someone living in Russia during the Great Purge was in expressing their opposition to Stalin. Only six years later, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal across all fifty states.
This issue of whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong is irrelevant to the point of this post. The point of the post is that when one side of a political divide decides that destroying the other side is fair game, a breakdown in civility and political tribalism is sure to follow.