6) News for Narcissists

My local newspaper, The Washington Post, keeps making editorial choices that amount to dancing to President Donald Trump’s narcissistic tune even while trying to point out his flaws. I wrote to the editors:

Please change five ways you cover this president. He’s not like his predecessors. His actions compel different coverage.

He proposes flatly unconstitutional acts, such as deporting people without due process. Don’t lead with what he suggests. Your story is “President’s Proposal Unconstitutional.” He swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. When he urges abandonment of the Constitution (or displays utter ignorance of it), we all must object.

This president lies or gaslights regularly. That story is “Another Presidential Lie.” You must bury the actual lie as deeply as possible in the article, because propagating the lie is what a strategic liar wants you to do. Don’t lead with a summary of the lie, then quote the tweeted lie, then publish an image of the tweet. That gives three victories to the liar before he’s refuted.

We understand his fascination with seeing his name. Printing his name in three, four, five daily headlines fans that flame. Write about the policies, not about him, when possible.

Don’t let his thumbs redirect your spotlight. When he tweets an insult or celebrity spat, ignore it, or at best bury it on page 12 as “Conduct Unbecoming” and claw back more of page one for stronger news.

Finally, please force GOP leaders in Congress (especially Messrs. Ryan, McCarthy, McConnell and Cornyn) to confront presidential misconduct as part of their constitutional responsibility. Carefully forge piercing questions. Print their answers. Do not print vague evasions or deflections. When they are again complicit, when they fail again, don’t chide them for the nth time to do better; call for their ouster.

If you can’t do all this, you might as well change your slogan to “Democracy Died in Broad Daylight.”[*]

That’s my 321. Offer yours?


[*the current motto of The Washington Post is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”]

5) Incompetence Confirmed

People paid to do a task are supposed to be good at it. People paid to lead an agency are supposed to be exemplary. It’s hard to remain civil when beset by professional incompetence. When that incompetence is deliberate, part of a plan, we’re bound to be angry. Anger corrodes civility.

For that reason, we need to insist more loudly on competence in our federal government. The current Congress is sabotaging some Executive Branch missions by confirming people who are incapable of, or intend to scuttle, those missions.

The president nominated, and 50 Republicans in the Senate confirmed, a NASA administrator who has never managed a space project. Are there people who have such experience? Of course. So why nominate someone without the experience? To eliminate the possibility of effective management.

A nominee to run Veterans Affairs, a physician, has no experience running even one sleepy rural hospital, let alone a health care management agency for 9 million people. He said the president has “incredibly good genes,” which makes one wonder whether he examined, or kissed, the presidential rear (he’s a Navy rear admiral).

In any administration, not just this one, we’d expect a couple nominees who fit their posts poorly. There must have been tats somewhere, for which the appointments are the tits. Quos, meet quids.

This administration makes incompetence the rule, not the exception. The Secretary of Education has neither taught in a school nor run a school. The Secretary of Energy once wanted to eliminate that department (a proposal he famously forgot during a 2011 debate). The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency pushes his agency to do less to protect the environment. The Secretary of the Interior defends shrinking national monuments.

In the face of such planned, preferred, preordained professional incompetence, we need to object. Be civil, but be heard. Demand better of Congress, or vote out those who confirm incompetents. That’s my 321. It’s your turn.


4) Malignant Megaphones

One threat to a civil conversation is the deliberate use of a megaphone to out-shout more rational voices. Rush Limbaugh fired up his conservative megaphone on radio about thirty years ago. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes fired up their conservative megaphone on television, the Fox network, about twenty years ago. Both megaphones are commercially successful.

They also are successful at harming the nation by deliberately misinforming citizens.

Multiple surveys over the last 15 years show us that people who get their news predominantly through Fox are less informed, more likely to believe political lies, than people who get their news through other sources.

I describe this harming the nation as “successful” because Fox executives know they have the ear of a massively impressionable president of the United States, and they are quite deliberate about manipulating the national conversation. Yes, misinforming and deceiving the Fox audience is catastrophic for civility (my main interest here) and catastrophic for an informed electorate, but it is “success” for the Fox megaphone.

Conservatives like this megaphone approach more than liberals do. Ruth Tam of PBS interviewed Tufts University professors Sarah Sobieraj and Jeffrey M. Berry in 2104 about their book “The Outrage Industry: Public Opinion Media and the New Incivility.”  Sobieraj said, “There are more programs on the right that are outrage-based than there are on the left — talk radio, for example, is over 90 percent conservative — and if you look at the average number of outrage incidents per episode, there are more instances in shows hosted by conservatives than liberals.”

What’s the civil way to recover our national conversation? Create a better informed, less deceived, more civil electorate by purchasing Fox and ousting its ideologues, and by outbidding the Rush Limbaugh organization for radio affiliate air slots. Make them wealthy… but switch off their megaphones. Retire their rhetoric. Replace them with more civil, factual, informative megaphones. That’s my very tiny megaphone’s 321 words. Your turn.


3) Loaded for Bear? Lo, Did Forbear

I think it’s time to try 321 words about civility on an easy topic: gun control.

Today’s gun control conversation is angry. It’s far from civil. For example: A combative television personality just told her 2 million Twitter followers about four college rejections a high school student received. She bullied a high school student on Twitter. Why did she spotlight him? The student has been a vocal proponent of gun control since a teenager opened fire at his school, killing 17.

Gun control could be discussed civilly, if we adults set aside the worst of our fear, hysteria, hyperbole, and rage.

Gun control opponents: Please stop arguing that gun control always means denying Constitutional rights and taking people’s guns away. There is no slippery slope argument here. There’s hardly any slope at all. Even when we enacted an “assault weapon ban” in the 1990s and kept it in force for 10 years, the government didn’t come knocking to seize people’s guns. While that ban was on the books, new guns were for sale everywhere, and hunters could hunt, and people could buy guns for self-defense, and people who just wanted to shoot for fun could do so.

A special comment for the National Rifle Association: You’re hyperventilating, shredding your credibility. Educate more, agitate less, please?

Gun control advocates: Focus on very specific language about any proposed changes to legislation, and avoid arguing over issues that won’t be legislated. Today’s guns will stay. Debating whether guns in a home make people safer is not helpful, because there will never be legislation to keep guns out of homes. It is useless to argue about whether gun laws in one city, or one state, have worked well, if the goal is to enact nationwide legislation.

Let’s discuss specific legislation to change gun regulations in constitutionally valid ways. Vote for, or against, those who support such legislation. That’s my 321-word countdown. Now it’s your turn.



2) Hold the Phone

In this 321-word Civil Eyes installment, I’ll try to make a case for less use of smart phones, so we can be more civil to each other.

First, let me say that smart phones are technological marvels that can make our lives better in many ways. I’m not opposed to smart phones. I’ve been using one for years. At times, I would literally be lost without it. (Thanks, Google Maps.)

Smart phones also can make us less civilized because they can insulate us from consequences of uncivil communication.

The problem exists for users of all ages, but it is worst among younger people, among people who have always had smart phones in their world.

I think most of us would agree that giving teenagers unsupervised access to hypodermic needles full of heroin is a bad idea. Unfortunately, a smart phone is a hypodermic needle full of heroin. The social media apps young people use every day are carefully engineered to engage the brain in ways that release dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins – natural opioids, chemical cousins of heroin. Young people want to use those apps more, to experience more of the hormonal releases of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins. They become strongly addicted to their phones. Older people can be affected the same way, but have lived at least part of their lives learning how to get through an hour without a smart phone fix.

The more time young people spend on smart phones, the less time they spend interacting with people face to face, where we are forced to practice being civil because the consequences of being uncivil are immediately visible. Instagram posts, Snapchats, texts and the like create distance between an action and the recipient’s reaction. They also can be public in ways that face to face conversation cannot.

Could we unplug more, and interact face to face more? Make those faces happy. Okay, your turn. That’s my 321.


1) Civility Begins With Us

Let’s civilize the conversation.

Civility begins with us. It begins with you and me, right here, today. We can have a conversation. I’m building each post in this blog at 321 words, so you can read each post in a minute or two. In that number, “three two one,” we hear a countdown to action. Your action might be to comment, to reply.

The American conversation here in 2018 is far from civil. People are so angry about so many issues they are not listening well.

Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, has recently focused on what he calls “a contempt problem” in American politics. I’m not a fan of the American Enterprise Institute. It’s a deliberately conservative institution, and I am conservative on a few social issues, but mostly I lean toward liberal solutions. Nevertheless, I should be willing to listen to people like Mr. Brooks in the conservative choir, to hear them, and to look for areas of agreement.

If we are contemptuous, Brooks says, we shun each other. If we can be civil, we might listen to each other. Listening is better than not listening. He says he asked the Dalai Lama about the contempt problem, and the Dalai Lama suggested that we should respond to contempt “with warm-heartedness.”

Here’s my first suggestion: Let’s create a more civil conversation in our broadcast and cable media. When I was a radio announcer, we used to have a Fairness Doctrine that required broadcasters to give equal time to all sides in a political debate. When that went away, we got angry radio ranters like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones, who clearly profit from contempt. Polarized, one-sided talk shows create us-vs.-them audiences. They don’t help us be civil. Let’s go back to fairness. Let’s require broadcasters to give equal time to the other side(s) of the issues. Your thoughts? Click the comment button. I will listen warm-heartedly. That’s my 321.