White House Correspondents Dinner: Is Civility in America Dead?

The White House Correspondents’ Dinners are usually a time of good natured fun at the expense of a current White House administration, with a tastefully concealed political barb or two thrown in the mix. Last night’s 2018 dinner was much more than that. Comedian Michelle Wolf’s comedy routine went far beyond a simple roast of the current Trump administration and ended up being a vicious character assassination of individuals in the White House who were in attendance at the dinner. If Ms. Wolf’s intentions were to garner ill feelings toward the Trump administration, I think she failed miserably. In fact, if anything she strengthened, among conservatives, the image that the mainstream news media is hopelessly elitist and liberally slanted. The mean spiritedness shown merely feeds into the Right’s sense of paranoia and sense of victimhood.

This morning’s ABC “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” guest hosted by Johnathan Karl and the ensuing “round table discussion,” confirmed my belief. The general opinion, with the exception of one panelist, was that the comedy was a low blow and not funny. The one who did not agree with the overall sentiment, defended her view by referring to the Trump administration’s hurtful actions and comments as an invitation to return bad behavior in kind. What happened to the liberal mime of “when they go low, we go high?” Out the window, it would seem.

I suspect a fair number of liberals found Wolf’s attack on Sarah Sanders’ eye makeup (as the result of her burning the truth and applying the ash of lies to her eyes) was something she got coming to her, as well as Wolf’s wishing a tree would fall on Kellyanne Conway, but these attacks only widen the rift between conservatives and liberals. Wolf’s routine was not an attempt to be funny nor to foster a feeling of accomplishment amongst the correspondents, but with Conway and Sanders sitting mere feet away from her, she had a captive audience to bully and belittle. It was embarrassing and humiliating beyond pale. She had an agenda of hate and self-promotion. 

Well, she may not have been a well known comedian before last night, but these things have a way of backfiring as we saw last year with Kathy Griffins beheaded Trump joke. People usually know the difference between humor and vitriol.

What concerns me most, and was the subject of a small survey of people on the Stephanopoulos show, was the growing anger and divide between Americans in the last decade or so, that divides friends and family. As Americans we have gotten to a point where we don’t listen at all to others, but only shout each other down. And we often do it in the most belittling and hateful ways. Technology and social media has enabled instant character assassination and the easy button to spam hateful rhetoric. I have family members who left Facebook because it just got too much. Family get togethers became increasingly more and more awkward as far politics was concerned, to the point that after last Thanksgiving we quietly requested that politics no longer be a subject of conversation at family gatherings. When strong and angry political views are present, dialogue and understanding is impossible.

And this is where we, as a nation, have arrived. One can look at a number of contributing events, and fingers can be pointed, but without a “time out,” and some introspection, it’s all just “wind and fury.” There is a lack of civility on all sides that acts as a rip-current, sucking everyone in its path out to sea. I know, because I too have been caught up in the current. As a Christian, leaning considerably to the left of many friends and family members, I have too often succumbed to a feeling of desperately trying to head off what I perceive to be the wrong direction they are heading, and end up sounding shrill or attacking. On line, in the forums, it is too easy to get caught up in the negativity and sarcastic remarks. I recognize I need to do better. 

As the church we, both liberal and conservative, have taken on the ways of the “kingdom of this world” rather than the “Kingdom of God.” Rather than speaking love and truth we end up sloganeering and jeering the “other” side. This is not Christlike. It has to stop. “Speaking the truth in love,” Ephesians 4:15, does not involve anger, bitterness, sarcasm or bullying. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:29-32.

God help us all.

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