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I’ve read much recently about the lack of civil discourse in the country today. Most of the attention has been on attacks or “cancellations” of people who have some level of public exposure. For example, Jon Stewart has been hammered for suggesting the COVID virus originated in the Wuhan Laboratory. Evidently, Stewart’s point, which is supported by a great deal of evidence, is off limits, something that can’t be discussed.

Mike Gonzalez, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has written a book about the Marxist Black Lives Matter Global Foundation. In it, he is careful to distinguish between “Black Lives Matter” as a slogan or sentiment, which he endorses, and the organization, which he seeks to expose as revolutionary.

No matter. Amazon has informed the Heritage Foundation, with which Gonzalez is affiliated, that it won’t accept the foundation’s proposed advertising copy. The reason? Amazon says the ad does not meet its “standards” but doesn’t specify exactly what those standards are.

Last year, Twitter deleted tweets linking to a story in the New York Post about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, another subject some unspecified censor at Google-owned Twitter decided was off limits. More personally, I see constant complaints on my feed from people who say their followers were deleted or their tweets removed. Not all of them come from folks whose tweets are “conservative.” Several are from those whose tweets and profiles show them to be quite progressive.

Personally, I try to avoid engaging in any political debate on social media, which I think are lousy platforms for debate. But as I’ve written before, my rather mildly worded tweets in favor of vaccination drew name-calling from committed anti-vaxxers. In contrast, hip-hop singer Nicki Minaj, an anti-vaxxer herself, drew a great deal of invective for saying she won’t get the vaccine. Her reasons are nutty. But deserving a full-court press from the government? Hardly.

On Facebook, where I studiously avoid political discourse, I notice accusations directed at public officials who avoid shutdowns and mask mandates, suggesting that such officials are agents of death. The same people celebrate every death in Florida as a great good thing.

So much for civil discourse. Can’t anyone politely disagree?

Sometimes, I think not. Not anymore. Even in private conversations, I notice quick elevation of the temperature in the room. Many are quick to level all sorts of accusations similar to what I’ve seen on Facebook, sometimes without any provocation from someone else. Others I know are quick to become angry, unwilling to listen to any fact-based arguments, and resort to name-calling almost immediately.

We notice such behavior from those with whom we disagree, but honest assessment causes me to conclude that folks on our side of an issue are capable of the same behavior. I am trying to figure out the reasons for it.

I think there are several. First, the pandemic has made us all fearful, tense, frustrated, and in some cases, a little crazy. In such an atmosphere, trying to steer a middle course, obtaining the best information one can, and making decisions accordingly, has become difficult.

Secondly, we all live in our own bubble. There are “red states” and “blue states,” left-wing media and right-wing media, and so on. We see colleges teaching ideology as fact, and television commentators voicing all kinds of outlandish opinions. Many of us are shocked to find that there are people outside of our bubble who hold different points of view.

It is still possible to get factual information, but one has to work at it. I find it necessary to consult a number of sources and decide which ones are reliable. For example, Fox News can be useful for reporting stories that the hive mentalities that control other outlets won’t cover; but at the same time, some of the talking heads on Fox spew all sorts of garbage.

Thankfully, it is still possible to find people with whom we can have reasonable discussions. I know several, and enjoy my conversations with them, because I hear more than “but Trump,” “but January 6th” or “but election fraud” from them. It doesn’t take long to find out who they are.

But these opportunities are getting fewer and fewer. I find that sad, but I don’t think things are going to change soon. It’s going to take a real commitment from many people to get us back to a civil society.

But I think it will be worth the effort.

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Bob Arrington is a Kingsport attorney. E-mail him at

r_arrington@chartertn.net.