Our Summer of Jerkitude

From the Weekly Standard:

As America continues its downward spiral of incivility, we have entered the Summer of Jerkitude. (I had thought about using a different word that ended in “-holery,” but wasn’t sure it would pass muster with the editors of a tasteful and intellectual publication like THE WEEKLY STANDARD.)

But “jerkitude” is a useful concept for our national moment of irritation and obnoxiousness. As it happens, some years ago, Eric Schwitzgebel, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, developed a comprehensive theory of the essence of jerkitude:

The jerk culpably fails to appreciate the perspectives of others around him, treating them as tools to be manipulated or idiots to be dealt with rather than as moral and epistemic peers. . . .The jerk himself is both intellectually and emotionally defective, and what he defectively fails to appreciate is both the intellectual and emotional perspectives of the people around him.

Which brings us to the owner who kicked Sarah Huckabee Sanders out of her restaurant, Robert DeNiro’s f-bomb at the Tony Awards, President Trump’s twitter feed, Corey Lewandowski’s “mwah-mwah” about a child with Down Syndrome, Maxine Waters, and actor, director, and thorough jerk, Seth Rogen.

During an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show Friday night, Rogen proudly recounted his confrontation with Paul Ryan and his children at Mitt Romney’s annual summit. Ryan’s two sons were fans of Rogen and politely asked to take a picture with him. They also said; “Our dad wants to meet you.” Rogen clearly relished the rest of the story:

"I turned around and Paul Ryan was walking towards me. My whole body puckered, as it were. I tensed up and didn’t know what to do. He came over, just grabbed my hand and I’m shaking his hand. 

"He goes, 'Can I have a picture with you?' I look over and his kids are standing right there, expectantly, clearly fans of mine, and I said: 'No way, man!' I couldn't stop, and I said: 'Furthermore, I hate what you’re doing to the country at this moment and I count the days until you no longer have one iota of the power that you currently have.'"

Rogen acknowledged having mixed feeling about doing all of this front of Ryan’s children, but he explained to Colbert: "It’s not their fault, but at the same time they should probably learn that if they like a movie or song, the person who made that probably doesn’t like their dad that much. Unless they’re watching Roseanne reruns."

Several points here: Rogen, was of course, perfectly within his rights to decline to have his picture taken. (I have to admit that I would refuse a request for a selfie with, say, Corey Lewandowski.) The actor was also exercising his First Amendment rights in speaking truth to power.

But he was also being a thoroughgoing jerk, not so much for acting all of this out in front of Ryan’s kids, but for going on national television to yuk it up over his obnoxious incivility. As he undoubtedly expected, the initial reaction of the progressive Twitterati was enthusiastic, with many declaring Rogen a conquering hero for courageously refusing the selfie.

Reaction to Sanders’ expulsion from a restaurant (and the heckling of Kirstjen Nielsen and Stephen Miller others) also fell along depressingly familiar lines, as many on the left justified the action as a sign of their thorough-going wokeness. This view confuses boorish intolerance for righteous indignation, of course.

And there’s a lot of that going around, as angry partisans grant themselves emotional license to act out. Congresswoman Maxine Waters is now calling for an actual campaign of boorishness. "If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, “ she declared, “you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere."

Which is depressing enough on its own, without the bonfire of hypocrisy it’s triggering as Trumpists express their shock and outrage at all of this incivility.

Proving once again that he is as thoroughly unburdened by self-awareness as he is by character or principle, Newt Gingrich is leading the chorus of Trumpian tut-tutters:

The increasing personal nastiness toward people who work for President Trump reflects the left’s understanding that they are losing. Nastiness reflects desperation not strength. They can’t win the argument so they use nastiness. Sad and dangerous.

Backward rolled a million eyes, not merely because of Gingrich’s mewling sycophancy, but because, as Ken “Popehat” White pointed out:

If you promote someone who contemptuously defies every norm of civility, and argue that civility doesn’t matter and that its absence is refreshing and honest, and build an ideology around upsetting people .... folks might start to take you at your word, and you may not like it.

All of which brings us to our current season of jerkitude.

Over the weekend, Axios’ Mike Allen described what he called “the unraveling,” as the nation’s political discourse has increasingly taken on the tone of the president’s twitter feed. “Trump’s way—the lying, the name-calling, the nastiness—is quickly becoming the American way for many of his friends and foes,” wrote Allen. “This, in turn, numbs people to the truly outrageous, and hardens the tribal instincts of political combatants. This will get worse before it gets better.”

A similar point was made by the New York Times’ Peter Baker, who noted that

The politics of rage that animated Mr.Trump’s political rise now dominate the national conversation, as demonstrated repeatedly during the debate over his “zero tolerance” immigration policy that separated children from parents apprehended at the border.

As a political strategy, this effusion of rage undoubtedly does fire up the bases on both sides, and that seems to be the theme of this year’s midterm election. But a cautionary note is in order.

As a Wisconsinite, all of this seems familiar. During the battle over Act 10—Scott Walker’s proposal to limit the collective bargaining powers of public employees—the over-the-top incivility of the protesters turned the tide of political opinion against them. A cascade of obscenities, threats against Walker and his supporters, and the disruption of events for disabled athletes alienated swing voters for more than half a decade.

Given the emotionalism of our own angry moment, it may seem pointless to suggest that a wiser and more effective strategy would be for partisans to appeal to the better angels of our nature. So, instead, perhaps, they should consider this:

Not a single swing voter was persuaded to embrace Seth Rogen’s cause by his treatment of Ryan; Lewandowski did not win a single crossover vote for the GOP by mocking a disabled child; and not a single independent voter in a key congressional district was inspired to vote for a Democrat by the expulsion of Sarah Sanders from the Red Hen restaurant. Instead, the tribal lines were reinforced, with each side reinforcing their collective sense of victimization and fury.

Meanwhile, voters who are part of an inchoate coalition of the decent found themselves more alienated than ever by the jerks who now dominate our political culture.