A good friend of mine recently posted the cartoon you see above on Facebook; I was mildly bothered by it and so I hastily decided to post a quick, if not somewhat glib, jab back: “I’m not sure insulting people’s intelligence is productive either.” That was my initial, gut response to the cartoon, and I thought little more of it.
My irritation with the cartoon stems from a long distaste in political bickering and I find democratic and republican insults (coming from either side) superficial, egocentric, and ignorant. Direct insults do nothing productive: they only fuel a fire of bigotry and polarize people who, in reality, have more in common with each other than they’re willing to admit.
Don’t’ get me wrong: I’m as irritated at the stupidity of some of our leaders in this country as anybody else. This government shutdown was damaging to America and it directly affected millions of people—including the women who couldn’t get WIC support to buy formula for their babies. Certain politicians’ hissy fits and bravado exhibitions are ridiculous and we have an obligation to call them out on it—especially when the well-being of fellow Americans depends on it.
But we shouldn’t characterize entire groups of people as being stupid, as this cartoon does. That, by definition, is blatant bigotry and overt hate speech.
Because of the pervasiveness of cartoons and political insults like the one above, I typically leave my experience with them as being nothing more than annoyed. I’ve gotten too used to them, I suppose.
But after I posted my rather flippant Facebook comeback to the cartoon, something far more bothersome happened: a person I don’t know, a friend of my friend’s on Facebook, posted back and directly insulted me.
“Please, these people are screwing with folks’ livelihood and you’re worried about insulting their intelligence?”
Though probably not intended to be so cruel, rhetorically that one statement is laced with the bigotry and hatred I fear most in this country. Aside from directly attacking my own character by suggesting that I don’t care about the livelihoods of my fellow Americans and human beings (which is ridiculous), there is an indirect suggestion in that statement that republicans—who are highlighted in the cartoon—as a whole don’t care either. By stating “these people” in direct context with the content of the cartoon, this person’s statement effectively characterized nearly half of all Americans as being dumb. Simply because they are republicans.
My attacker’s statement also ignorantly suggested that the government shutdown was entirely a one-sided problem, that anybody who claims to be a democrat is on the winning side of an intelligence comparison. Perhaps I’m overshooting this a bit, but the last time I checked, labeling an entire group of people because of their inborn or socio-cultural worldview was considered prejudiced, intolerant, racist, xenophobic, and hateful. And I might add a few more to the list: ignorant, childish, and shame-worthy.
We live in a great country. But the divisive cavern that is being trenched between those who claim to be republicans and those who claim to be democrats is killing what has made this country great. The government shutdown wasn’t only embarrassing, it was a clear indication that we as a people have forgotten that we have a collective purpose in common: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Insulting people and politicians broadly because of their political affiliation has got to stop. There are a number of social, intellectual, religious, and ideological reasons why people vote the way they do; but it is flat out inane to think that democrats and republicans are complete opposites. Blatant attacks are not only unproductive politically (they are what we call in argumentation and debate ad hominem fallacies), they incite undue hatred and ill-will towards fellow human beings.
What we see happening in our government right now is a bipartisan problem. It is an American problem. The fact that our leaders couldn’t vote on a budget to fund government programs beneficial to us all—like WIC and the national parks—has very little to do with the technicalities of the Affordable Care Act and a party’s refusal to agree on them, as many tried to suggest.
Rather, the inability to lead and take care of the American people is rooted in political bigotry—and politicians aren’t the only ones to blame. Every time we blanket-insult people for whom they claim affiliation with, we perpetuate a cycle of animosity that blockades our ability to make good decisions and respect other people.
I care deeply about the people whose lives have been seriously affected by this government shutdown. But my response to my Facebook attacker is simple: it isn’t “these people’s” [republicans’, tea party affiliates’] fault. It’s just as much your own fault for perpetuating the insults. And I stand by my original argument: broadly insulting an entire group’s intelligence is fruitless. Actually, it’s downright disgraceful.