(Continuing the discussion of Nuance from a previous blog entry)

The recent obsession with incivility started when the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her party to leave soon after having been sat. Liberals responded with opinions–perhaps–split down the middle: either to meet rudeness with kindness, or to respond in kind. Conservatives were united in their opinions.

Maxine Waters, the Democratic Representative from California’s 43rd district, passionately called for civic and peaceful public retribution against those complicit in morally suspect/reprehensible actions of the Trump administration:

Rep. Waters: “If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. You push back on them. Tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere!”

While many non-politicians with public voices agreed with Rep. Waters, most other Democratic politicians argued against publicly shunning members of the Trump administration and its supporters.

Many compared the treatment of SHS to either racial segregation or refusal to bake a cake for homosexuals. Brian Lehrer had a segment (Calls for Civility, 27 Jun 2018) where callers pointed out that discrimination based on a person’s public actions and statements is different than that based on skin color or nationality: the former is chosen freely.

Trump supporters, for their part, felt they were being treated unfairly. (Many would say that, with Republicans at the height of power, they were and have been throughout the Trump presidency “playing the victim”.)

From the video: “What’s going to happen is we’re going to end up with a civil war. You’re going to have people shooting people. You need to tone it down a little bit. The language, everything it’s gotta stop. Be decent, please be decent. Don’t ask any more stupid questions. When [she?] answers a question, you don’t understand English. One question, one answer. You should understand…”

Trump’s gross and frequent incivility does not need to be pointed out or repeated.

I don’t think.

This form of asymmetric warfare is problematic. Conservatives will be, and revel in being, aggressive and coarse. Responses in kind from liberals are met with outrage from both conservatives and liberals. (Michelle Obama eloquently strove to “go high”.) How important is it right now with what we have seen to eschew civility?

From a position of weakness

Updated 8 Feb 2019

I was having a conversation recently about the pros/cons of the Internet as social media and how it differs from similar forms throughout history.

Means of individual and group communications sent to an audience–one-to-many or many-to-many as opposed to one-to-one–include: the town crier (ancient BCE up to ~1900 CE), the broadsheet (from ~1700 up to its blending into…), newspapers (from 700s CE by Chinese dynastic governments, then privately produced Chinese media ~1580, from 1500s-1700s by the Italian government, from the 1600s throughout Europe and America), magazines (1600s), fanzines (1800s (!) literary to mid- late-1900s pop culture), TV (1900s), Usenet and BBSs (1970s), blogs (1990s), social media (late 1990s).

The original forms were government-controlled with broad distribution, then later forms were introduced for private groups but with smaller distribution, and ultimately company-controlled with a broad distribution. In the last 50-or-so years the ability for individuals to broadcast to a potentially large audience became more widely available. Broad distribution was accessible only to governments at first, then corporations, and finally individuals. The progress from fanzine to blog to social media were the forms that provided that increasing access.

The ability of the individual to communicate to the many equates to the ability to affect their social environment. The older newspaper, magazine, and TV forms contained consumable information that provided little opportunity for the consumer to produce any of that information. The only means were in the form of popularity feedback via advertisements, or that of letters-to-the-editor filtered through the editors themselves. These are considerably constrained forms of influence.

Affecting your environment provides a sense of agency and control and perhaps reduces feelings of increasingly narrower importance in communities that are increasingly wider. Someone in a small town now more likely understands, via the Internet, that they are only part of a near limitless whole. (This understanding is addressed defectively by Jordan Peterson’s romanticizing of “small, rural communities.”)

The ability to affect your environment comes in different forms. Similar to the broadcast of ideas are the choices to spray paint graffiti or play loud music in a public space: the city controls you and so you try to take some of that control back. This gets maybe into the difference of lower class disaffection and response versus middle class response, but that is probably too simplistic. (Even, further afield, the choice to get a tattoo is a choice to control a body that was given without choice.) In the initial discussion that prompted this entry, we also talked anecdotally about how the game Pong amazed us as children and how, obviously, it appears simplistic. From tinker toys to VR Minecraft. Similar to sending your messages to potential millions, controlling what appeared on a TV screen that was previously consumption-only gave the individual control over previously un-controlled content. The thrill of making dots on a TV screen do what you want comes from the same source that drives us to post a picture of food on Instagram or pass along our belief in a government conspiracy on Facebook. Within every success is a failure.

Updated 8 Feb 2019

Origins of journalism and conservative hatred of journalism in The New Yorker article Does Journalism Have a Future?

Correcting/clarifying my loose reading of Wikipedia history, newspapers qua American newspapers started in the 1830s. Hatred of news by conservatives started earlier than I expected: in the 1950s with McCarthy and heavily in the 1970s by Spirow Agnew (who I recently/embarrassingly just learned was Nixon’s VP pre-Ford and resigned prior to Nixon in a nearly-as-corrupt cloud). He states that “good politics for us to kick the press around” which sounds grindingly similar to Trump’s “fake news” quips”. But we knew that?

And there’s a satisfaction that Bill Kristol denounced the press at the time as fake-news-ish and then the shuttering of the iconic magazine he founded, The Weekly Standard, was celebrated by Trump. What Rick Wilson keenly calls “Everything Trump Touches Dies” I express as a canonical example of a monster eating its creators. Good. Fucking. Riddance. Hate begets destruction.


  • Jour means day, newspapers were daily, journalism
  • TV made newspapers from descriptive to interpretive since tv was visually descriptive

In No thank you, Mr. Pecker, Jeff Bezos reveals that The Enquirer attempted to blackmail him in order to have the newspapestarter he owns (the notable WaPo) stop pursuing stories re their (The Enquirer’s) politically-motivated catch-and-kill activities w/r/t Trump. Representatives for the not-so-notable Enquirer spoke to him about photos they found (“found” being key) with him naked and/and genitally erect with a woman-not-his-wife while wearing his wedding ring, and then sent him emails (holy shit wire fraud!) saying same. He published their threat and the content thereof. Billionaires are justifiably getting shit right now, but his response as the billionaire was satisfying in a hero-we-need way:

Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?

Jacques Peretti, post modernist, then started Buzzfeed.

Arianna Huffington was anti-feminist

Alan Rusbridger from The Guardian:

Our Generation had been handed the challenge of rethinking almost everything societies had, for centuries, taken for granted about journalism.

This is untrue. Journalism has always been mutable, but we just forget.




Updated 12 Jun 2018

Updated 9 Jul 2018

We are in a cold war of public insult and offense.

It all “started” with Michelle Wolf’s routine at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. She took the news media to task–with only partial humor, predominantly viciousness–for their complicity in Trump’s success at shaping his mass media persona without balancing it with context (e.g. lies were often left un-addressed). She also threw sharp critiques at Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, seated 10 feet away, for her many lies during her White House press conferences. Wolf’s set also included references to Sanders’ smoky eye makeup and her similarity to a female collaborator in A Handmaid’s Tale. No matter the target, Wolf delivered it with a smiling vulgarity that is her signature and, indeed, that of many comics before her. The right, and some on the left, felt she had gone too far; none that I had read addressed the content of her message.

More recently Rosanne Barr compared a black woman to an ape. I’m trying to find a similar depth of metaphor as Wolf’s comments but, as with most racist comments, cannot. Both sides justifiably and nearly unanimously recognized what true vulgarity was and Barr’s extremely popular show was quickly cancelled.

Prior, Bill Maher gave one of his many virtuosically angry monologues about Trump while displaying a picture of an orange-haired orangutan on the screen. Unlike Michelle Wolf, this was a caricature without content. He may have been making a point about Trump’s buffoonery, but it came across as purely visual. After the Rosanne affair, Conservatives resurrected Maher’s Trump comparison. I can’t begin to see how they’re equivalent, especially given that his contentful monologue was the primary message and, of course, that absence of racism.

Then we jump to Samantha Bee’s use of the phrase “feckless cunt” to describe Ivanka Trump. More outrage ensued. (In this subset of examples, it seems that female comedians have a predilection for vulgar insults.) I have to admit I love this phrase and it’s pure Samantha Bee (as racism is pure Rosanne Barr) but have been told that cunt is a word that Cannot Be Uttered Even By Another Female. That being said, feckless is a pretty accurate description of Ivanka.

Mostly ignored in the coverage of these events are the many vulgar statements made by Donald Trump, arguably someone who should be held to a higher standard than comedians. This again is an example of the news media basically giving him a pass. Most of the insults were directed at him and those around him–and he publicly railed against Michelle Wolf’s and Samantha Bee’s comments because of that–but his past, similar transgressions went unaddressed. Well, unaddressed in the news media but the irony was often brought up on Twitter and elsewhere.

Of these examples, I obviously have a bias.

During the same Bill Maher episode with the orangutan “guest”, his panel compared and contrasted the actions of Roy Moore, Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, and others who have paid the price of their actions thanks to the Me Too movement’s ascendancy. All agreed that Franken’s groping pantomime was far removed from Moore’s predatory actions and Weinstein’s public masturbation et al. This fact should be obvious. The summary of the panel’s discussion was that actions that are similar are not necessarily the same (also obvious) and that people need to stop thinking in simply black-and-white. It’s a tough point to make while discussing vulgar jokes, but nuance seems to have become a forgotten skill.

Updated 12 Jun 2018

Robert de Niro: “I’m gonna say one thing: fuck Trump [applause, standing ovation]. It’s no longer ‘down with Trump’ it’s ‘fuck Trump’.”

This rises to a new level of cathartic anger.

Criticism was split on the left and right, with many on the left saying he should have “gone high” a la Michelle Obama and many on the right withering in a manner that’s absent for similar outbursts by Trump. And there was the inevitable accusation of left-wing, Hollywood elitism snubbing an everyman.

People have been saying this-and-statements-like-this for the entirety of Trump’s presidency and campaign, but none so publicly, succinctly, and from a point of such visibility and fame. To state the obvious: de Niro’s statement contains none of the nuance of Wolf or Maher or Bee and more of the simple vulgarity of Trump (“son of a bitch,” “shithole countries,” “go fuck themselves,” etc.). Several articles past and present document the pejorative peccadilloes of previous presidents (These Are the Most Foul-Mouthed Presidents, and How Donald Trump Compares from Culture CheatSheet and A Brief History of Presidential Profanity from Rolling Stone). What’s to be learned from these articles is that although every president swears, few match the magnitude and frequency of Trump.

The social noise continues to escalate.

Updated 9 Jul 2018

Continuing the outbreak of politicians getting confronted in public.

Kristin Mink, a progressive school teacher, confronted Scott Pruitt at a restaurant in DC and enumerated his abysmal environmental policies and corruption (details: Kristin Mink: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know and I confronted Scott Pruitt not for his corruption but for his environmental crimes).

A group followed Mitch McConnell leaving a restaurant in Louisville, KY and asked questions about the missing children and demanded he abolish ICE (details Protesters confront McConnell leaving Kentucky restaurant).

Steve Bannon was called a piece of trash in Black Swan Books in Richmond, VA (details Steve Bannon called ‘piece of trash’ by heckler at bookstore). Stephen Miller was yelled at by a bartender at a sushi restaurant in DC (details From Kellyanne Conway to Stephen Miller, Trump’s advisers face taunts from hecklers around D.C.).

Arguments for confronting politicians in public are that they are public servants (true, even with Bannon who is an ex-advisor). Against, at least what I’ve read, are that we should respect their privacy (restaurants and book stores are public spaces) and we should instead vote to change policy (people can both confront and vote).

I hope this keeps up.