Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” revolves around a family feud that gets out of hand and leads to the deaths of four people, including the two young lovers. The carnage brings everyone to their senses, and the prince of Verona, regretting his failure to act sooner, orders an end to it all.
Interesting thing about the play. Shakespeare wastes not one word on the origins of the dispute. The Capulets and the Montagues are feuding, and that’s all one needs to know. Once a feud begins, it takes on a life of its own. Who started it is beyond the point. Tit follows tat until everyone gets bored with the foolishness or something awful happens.
Today’s feud between the left and right has gone way beyond something awful and is well along the path to truly scary. Where’s a good autocrat, calling a halt, when you really need one? At this point I’d settle for some competent, authoritative leadership from either side. Oh, and a responsible media which, for once, wasn’t milking the situation for the all the hysteria it could extract, wouldn’t hurt.
Every political movement has a lunatic fringe that, with just the right combination of toxic circumstance and opportunity, will do incalculable harm. A John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald is always lurking in the shadows, straining at the leash. This is a fact that the hyper-partisans on both sides need to take to heart — they run the risk of slipping the lunatic’s leash with the wrong words or action. Unfortunately, leash-slipping stupidity knows no partisan boundaries and seems to be well distributed throughout every institution, even those supposedly peopled by our betters.
So this is not an attempt to place blame. There is more than enough to go around. Ugly words and stare-downs have led — inevitably — to madmen, who represent no one and nothing other than their own paranoid fantasies, shooting up a baseball practice and putting incompetently-built pipe bombs in the mail. It doesn’t matter — and I don’t care — who started it. It has to end.
My faith in the constancy of human nature leaves me nearly despairing that the crucial first step can be achieved — and that is to turn down the volume. Nonetheless, somehow, it needs to happen. On the right, the radio talk show hosts need to tame their flame-throwing rhetoric. On the left, the Antifa thugs need to be shut down without apology, and the hecklers told to wave their signs but keep their mouths closed and let the speakers speak. Presidents, congressmen and senators must measure their words carefully and speak with dignity first, foremost and always. Let people eat their meals in peace, and let congressional committees do their jobs quietly and efficiently without showboating and clownish behavior. A show of respect costs nothing but a little self-control and anger management, and reaps copious rewards. A Constitutional right wielded as a weapon rather than a tool can easily be turned against the person wielding it.
Let the late-night comics become equal-opportunity jokesters and insult artists; Lord knows there is enough folly to make fun of on both the left and the right. Let the cable-news pundits engage in far less blatant hackery and a lot more intelligent analysis. Let journalists engage in journalism rather than getting away with being political “operatives with a byline.” That goes double for editorial writers. I’m a capitalist deep in my bones, but Fox and MSNBC should seek profits in reporting the who, what, when, where and why rather than least-common-denominator pandering to a specific political demographic.
John Adams tried to teach us that democratic republican government is only possible among virtuous people. We’ve always resisted the lesson and done our best to prove him wrong, with lamentable results. Adams’ own presidential re-election campaign against Thomas Jefferson, considered one of the dirtiest in history (and that’s saying something), proved the point. The breach between Adams and Jefferson, once great friends and colleagues, took years to heal. A lack of virtue drove them apart and left them bitter enemies; the virtue of forgiveness brought them back together.
When virtue is defined as nothing more than winning, whatever the cost, then anything, no matter how heinous, becomes both possible and necessary. Not even in war do we consider that acceptable; even in war, there are rules that all but the barbarians obey. We are not barbarians. It is past time that we started acting like it.
Kenneth D. Gough of Elizabethton is a semi-retired businessman.