Can We All Just Get Along?
Are we so insecure that we have to be nasty when we disagree?
Last week, there was a lot of noise because two people, whom most would consider to be mismatched, sat chatting amiably while watching a football game.
One was a female talk show host and comedian, who is politically liberal and openly gay, who was attending the game with her wife, at the invitation of the team owner.
The other was the former President of the United States, who is politically conservative and straight and Christian, who was attending the game with his wife, the former First Lady.
The telecast apparently spent some time showing them on-screen, intrigued by the unique pairing. Just two friends laughing and eating (nachos, I'd guess) and watching a game.
That Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush are famous, at least here in the U.S., is obvious. But celebrities attend these games all the time and they don't garner this much attention.
They were sitting in the owners box, but that's not unusual either. In Dallas, the owner loves to borrow fame, to enhance his own.
What struck people and triggered an explosion on social media, was that this odd couple, by some estimates, should be mortal enemies.
Ellen, through sheer force of her example of normalcy despite her fame, is an icon of the gay community. She famously 'came out' on her sitcom years ago, when such admissions were still considered a bad career move. She is active in her support of gay marriage, and is legally married to her partner, actress Portia DeRossi.
George W. Bush, former two-term President, who used to be the most unpopular President in my lifetime, has been relatively quiet since leaving office in January of 2009. Though not a recluse, he has become a more private citizen than most former Presidents do. He shows up at baseball and football games, attends various veteran's support events, and has become a artist/painter of some skill.
As President, his record was spotty, in an 8-year term clouded by the 9/11 terrorist attacks; the subsequent war in Iraq, which started under what appear to be false pretenses; the ill-fated 'Mission Accomplished' sign on an aircraft carrier, when the mission was far from accomplished; and setting the table for one of the country's worst economic downturns in history.
He also was staunchly against gay marriage and was generally seen by the gay community as an enemy.
This is what led to the explosion on Twitter, largely criticizing Ellen for being seen in public with Bush and, far from smacking him, as many thought he deserved, actually seemed to like him. Some went so far as to suggest that this was a betrayal of 'her people.'
There was not as much hate coming at Bush from anyone, as he has a growing reputation for hanging out with 'the enemy' and is not looked to for moral leadership the way he once was. Conservatives don't care about him anymore.
In the past, there was more civility in the world. Public people might despise one another, but rarely spoke about their personal animosity in public.
Likewise, people who were assumed to be mortal enemies because of their opposing viewpoints were actually good friends. When it was going on, no one knew about how Ronald Reagan used to have his Sunday dinners every week with Tip O'Neill, the Democrat and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Sometimes with their wives, sometimes just the two of them, they always had a lot to talk about, and they rarely talked about politics. On Monday through Saturday, they battled, but on Sundays, they were pals.
That sort of civility and humanity has gradually eroded over the years as America divided into factions. Whether it was Democrats versus Republicans, liberals versus conservatives, gay against straight, black against while or urban versus rural, society has retreated to its tribes, and increasingly sees only what their tribes see. Those who oppose are at least stupid, if not corrupt and evil and, as such, not worthy of respectful discourse.
At the same time, along with civility, intelligence is no longer a prerequisite for getting a lot of attention with ones statements, much less being elected to office. Being outrageous, especially with personal insults, used to relegate the speaker to the clown car. Now they go viral on social media while the struggling local TV stations and newspapers try to keep up.
Instead of 'Eew,' we have 'Ooooh...ahhhh...BURN!' The junior high lunch table has invaded our national discourse.
In the big scheme of things, Bush is unlikely to go down in history as a great U.S. President. He made a lot of mistakes, and had a lot of bad luck, which magnified those mistakes.
And Ellen may or may not go down in history as a great comic or talk-show host.
Regardless of their faith beliefs - I know Bush is a Christian, but I don't know whether Ellen is a person of faith - they showed us what civility, class, and humanity look like. And they showed it on national television, with millions watching for a totally different reason from watching them. It wasn't staged or choreographed or arranged. It just happened, naturally, organically, the way small children meet in kindergarten.
If they go down in history, it could also include showing a mortally divided American public the decent way to treat someone whose opinions differ from their own. That is, with respect, dignity, kindness, and friendship.
God bless you! Have a wonderful week
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