A Canonization in Civility

My father is the late Robert F. Bennett, R-Utah, who served as Utah’s junior senator for 18 years. When he passed just over two years ago, the media was filled with laudatory tributes to him that brought a great deal of comfort to all of us in the family. The problem was that most of these were posted on websites that included comment sections.

“Don’t read the comments” is the best advice I have ever given that I have never followed myself. Of course I read the comments. (Here at Canonizer, comments are the purpose of our existence.) And the good news is that, in this instance, the overwhelming majority of them were entirely appropriate condolences. But far too many of them were not. Some people thought his death provided the perfect opportunity to settle old, and now meaningless, political scores, and a handful decided to seize the day by crowing, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.”

I’m not paraphrasing. That was an actual comment, verbatim. There was no other substance or elaboration, just a terse expression of raw glee that my mother was now a widow and that I had lost my father. And as I stared at that slice of congealed bile for what seemed like forever, I tried to understand the rationale of the person who would say such a thing.

Now I can fully understand having unkind thoughts about public figures when they pass away, as I have had far too many of those myself. But the idea of immediately broadcasting those thoughts to the world at large in forums where the family of the recently deceased can read them is unfathomable to me.

If Mr. Ding Dong had met my mother on the street, would he have had the temerity to repeat his nasty mantra to her face? Would he be willing to come to either of my father’s funeral services, both of which were open to the public, and stand up and burst into song with his Oz-themed hatred?

Well, he didn’t, and neither did anyone else. That suggests that the anonymity of the Internet provides an easy outlet to be ruder than we would ever dare to be in real life. Except anonymity isn’t a mandatory requirement for an online license to be unkind.

The most recent example of this kind of bad behavior came in my Facebook thread discussing the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. I don’t want to rehash the argument, but I would like to highlight the reaction of one Solomon Kleinsmith, a man I have never met, do not know, and can no longer contact now that he has blocked me on Facebook.

Mr. Kleinsmith is apparently a blogger who claims to have influence over thousands, although I can’t find anything online that he’s written publicly in the past few years. I accepted his friend request during my campaign, and I hadn’t paid any attention to him until he jumped into this thread to offer the following bon mot:

Good lord… I cannot believe I threw several thousand people toward [you] in a positive way. I won’t be making that mistake again. If you believe this sort of logic, there is no way you could be trusted with high office.

I was quite startled by this, as I didn’t think I had said anything so far outside the bounds of propriety that it merited this kind of reaction, nor did I realize that I owed so many of my fans to Solomon Kleinsmith. I tried to de-escalate the situation, but the good Mr. Kleinsmith was having none of it:

Good lord – you really are a politician, aren’t you?… Dishonest politicians like you are so much of what is wrong with our political system… Goodbye, and good riddance to bad rubbish.

I was defriended and blocked immediately thereafter.

All right, so what’s my point?

My point is not that I think we shouldn’t be passionate about politics or that we need to tiptoe around each other when engaging in spirited debate. Here at Canonizer, we have an opportunity to do that in a constructive way. Because when legitimate disagreements turn into discussions about what a terrible person I am, I lose interest very quickly.

We live in an era where basic human decency is in increasingly short supply, especially when we enter the political arena. Donald Trump is a symptom of our national indecency disease, but, to mix metaphors, he didn’t start the fire. We have increasingly found excuses to be unkind to each other, when we need to find excuses to be precisely the opposite. If we’re going to dig out of the ad hominem pit in which we find ourselves, we need to listen to each other and find ways to disagree in an appropriately civil manner.

Do you have a similar opinion? Do you vehemently disagree? Sound off civilly in one of the camps below.