The Twitter world had a hissy fit earlier this week. A photo showing liberal comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres sitting next to President George W. Bush in the owner’s suite at a recent Dallas Cowboys football game generated a caustic response from the political Left. Apparently, it’s now a crime to sit next to a Conservative and share a laugh.
Indignant that this LGBTQ icon would associate with the conservative ex-President, Nylah Burton, a freelance journalist, summed up her indignation in an October 8th Independent News article saying, “If we accept a president who enacts xenophobic policies, strips citizens of rights, and levels entire countries — as long as he does it with a polite smile and platitudes about peace and unity — then how will we ever truly achieve liberation and escape the Trump era?”
Parker Molloy, writer and transgender rights activist, mistakenly assumed that DeGeneres was the guest of President Bush when she tweeted, “I feel like you shouldn’t need a flow chart to help you decide whether to go to a game as a war criminal’s guest.”
Geez, and I thought only the Right was supposed to be the hateful and intolerant among us?
DeGeneres responded to her critics almost immediately. Speaking on her syndicated show, The Ellen Show, Ellen acknowledged, “I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs I have…We’re all different, and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.”
Ellen added, “For instance, I wish people wouldn’t wear fur. I don’t like it, but I’m friends with people who wear fur. And I’m friends with people who are furry, as a matter of fact….But just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them.” She joked. “When I say, ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone….Even people who are already playing Christmas music — I mean seriously, there’s no excuse for that, but I’m kind to them.”
She concluded by thanking both the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones and his daughter Charlotte, as well as the Bushes “for a Sunday afternoon that was so fun — by the way, you owe me $6 for the nachos.”
I may not agree with DeGeneres on very much, if anything. But I admire how she responds to her critics’ vitriol with humor. I applaud her willingness to stand up and defend herself against intolerance and bigotry of any kind. I too have friends on both sides of the political spectrum. At my age, my views are, for the most part, unlikely to change. Yet, I welcome heartfelt discussion on the topics of the day. In some cases, such dialogue might sway my thinking. Or, as iron sharpens iron, it might only serve to hone my current rationale. Either way, I respect and appreciate civil discourse.
Reading about the tantrums of the Left regarding Ellen DeGeneres’ perceived social faux-pas, prompted a reflection of my own about the lack of civil debate in our current political climate. If a Conservative and a Liberal cannot even enjoy a football game together, how will we ever hope to find creative and cooperative solutions to the problems that face us all?
An article titled “Why is Civil Discourse Important?” (1) addresses this very concern.
Although one rude individual doesn’t threaten civil society, rampant incivility is cause for concern because it threatens, or a least appears to threaten the foundations of our modern, free, and liberal society. When discourse becomes fraught as an occasion for verbal tirades, people’s ability to debate important issues breaks down. The interplay of public argument and debate transforms into the tribal warfare of mutually hostile camps who each look to gain every advantage over the other, and the individual and equal rights of all are worryingly brought into question. Debate is impoverished as fewer choose to engage, fewer ideas are surfaced, and innovation is slowed.
Once this dynamic sets in, fear can take over. As both sides begin to fear the other, particularly the use of levers of government to punish those in the other tribe, then the battle lines harden. Even commerce, normally a force that can bring individuals of dissimilar views together, gets caught up in this struggle, whether it be boycotts of fast food restaurants, or seeking to get celebrities of the opposing side sacked. The ultimate fear is that an increasingly fractious war of words can cross over to be a war of swords.
So, thanks Ellen for reminding us that kindness, decency, and fairness can do more to open dialogue than the corrosive acidity of self-righteous indignation. I agree with Guy Benson, townhall.com editor, when he said, “This is precisely the sort of message that the country needs to hear — repeatedly — from major figures of various political and cultural stripes. This little monologue is an important antidote to noxious tribalism. It won’t appease the angriest shouters and pot-stirrers, but it will remind most viewers of unifying truths. Friendships, and basic manners and decency, must span the ideological divide.” (2)
I may not watch your show, Ellen, but at least for a day, I am a fan.