I learned long ago the folly of engaging in political debates on Facebook. Hurt feelings are the best case scenario.
But I couldn’t avoid this debate.
A long-time liberal friend sent me a private Facebook message in response to a critical column I wrote about the host of Jimmy Kimmel Live. Kimmel recently dropped his comedy shtick to embrace politics and blast Republicans for failing to protect citizens from crazed gunmen in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre. “[Republicans] should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country because it is so crazy,” Kimmel said.
My friend asked me why I would use my public platform to attack a man expressing justifiable outrage and sadness over the tragedy. Clearly she hadn’t read my column—or if she had, it had not been with an open mind.
No one likes to be criticized, let alone told their work was hurting the culture at large. So I defended both the article and my honor. I asked if she recalled how many liberals had said the meanest things conceivable about conservatives in 2017, and suggested that conservatives have had enough of it. Kimmel’s words were simply more of the same, and I couldn’t help but point that out.
Her initial response baffled me.
She said we’ll never make progress as a culture if we can’t have respectful conversations that bridge the partisan divide. Was she serious?
Not only do the biggest names in her party paint the GOP as savages (Senator Bernie Sanders said the GOP health care plan would kill thousands) but how could she ignore the vitriol fueling Kimmel’s remarks?
And it’s hardly the first time. The erstwhile Man Show host has been pummeling his ideological foes while mainstream media outlets cheer him on. “The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, a number of other lawmakers who won’t do anything about this because the NRA has their balls in a money clip,” Kimmel said. He’s also taken to Twitter to denounce those who disagree with him on gun control as “crazies.”
Why was she was celebrating a figure who has become as divisive as anyone on the Hollywood scene? Nothing I wrote was a fraction as insulting as what Kimmel says regularly about his political opponents. Did she really want a more congenial dialogue, or was she just trying to bully me into agreeing with her views?
I wrote the piece, in part, because I’m aghast at the lowered standards now prevalent on the late night comedy stage—and the lack of accountability. Have we forgotten Stephen Colbert’s “c*** holster” slam against President Trump?
One of the many ironies of the Trump Era is how the Left suddenly understands why cultural standards matter. Progressives are appropriately appalled by some of President Trump’s more boorish proclamations (as are many conservatives). And understandably so. Yet conservatives have been fighting this culture war for some time, only to be mocked now for even waging it.
The New York Times recently criticized Republicans who had chastised President Obama for breaches of etiquette while looking the other way when President Trump does much worse. It’s a fair point, even if the op-ed came couched in overtly partisan language.
Of course, outlets like the New York Times haven’t slammed Kimmel or Colbert for their often lewd remarks even though the latter’s “holster” remark would likely have gotten him fired had he said it about then-President Obama.
Instead, it’s business as usual for our late night hosts. Colbert, Kimmel and Seth Meyers routinely lash the GOP in the ugliest ways possible. And Samantha Bee kicked off her weekly TBS show, Full Frontal, by calling Senator Ted Cruz a “fish-faced horse**** salesman.”
So what happens next? If there’s a silver lining to the Trump presidency, it’s that it has forced both the Left and the Right into an uneasy agreement about the need for some cultural standards (even if they can’t agree on the details). That means that Republicans must hold their own side accountable when someone misbehaves (including the president) and my friend must hold the Kimmels of the world accountable when their rhetoric reaches a fever pitch—even if deep down they want to cheer them on.
We could all use a reminder that our culture (and especially the world of social media) could always benefit from greater civility.
Image: Obama White House Archives by Pete Souza