The Atlantic tells us that “Trump is making everyone a little like him.”
I disagree. Notice the headline’s passive voice. President Donald Trump isn’t making us do anything. Instead, we choose to act in certain ways.
American culture has become coarser in the past half century. Trump didn’t start this trend—not even on Twitter—but he is the logical conclusion of it.
The Atlantic notes former FBI director James Comey’s many insults of Trump in his new book, and Comey’s denials that he’s mocking Trump. Social justice activists are also well known for their abusive online rhetoric. Meanwhile, right-wing ideologues fill online comment sections with all sorts of insults of women and minorities.
This phenomenon is no more left-wing than it is right-wing, though the right has the most globally visible practitioner of it.
Trolling and online insults proliferate because so many people think it’s only wrong when someone else does it. But when I do it, the reasoning goes, I’m speaking out against someone who has hurt others and who needs to be exposed so they can no longer harm others.
Conservatives who say liberalism is a mental disorder are legitimately warning others of liberalism’s threat to civilization as we know it—at least in their own minds. And social justice activists call anyone who isn’t as far left as them a bigot in a justified attempt to fight oppression—or so they say.
But saying that Trump is making us do this evades responsibility for our choices. And it makes the problem worse because it blames the phenomenon on one segment of society, ignoring the fact that really it’s all of us.
No one person is likely to shift the tide, but each individual can play a small part by refusing to play along.
I can choose not to troll online or in person. I can choose not to use insults and instead to focus on why I disagree with someone. And if insulted, I can choose not to retaliate.
Marcus Aurelius wrote that the best revenge is not to be like your enemy. Ever seen a situation where someone remains calm and respectful even when being viciously insulted? In contrast to the exaggerated facial expressions, shrill tone of voice, and over the top statements of the attacker, the other person’s relaxed face and thoughtful response makes it look like a conversation between a child and an adult.
Besides, while factual items can be corrected simply by stating the facts (which may or may not be believed), character judgments are opinion and can’t be refuted in the same way. So redirecting from the personalities to the issue at hand can save us from the rabbit hole of “I know you are but what am I.”