I am the “25-year-old dude who loathes online dating.” The reader’s response to my email is interesting. I rather enjoyed it (especially the Tevye reference!) and it made me have to really think about my position.
I want to emphasize that I was not “effortlessly social” prior to my month-long stay in the hospital. In fact, I was very much an introvert. It took a long glance over the precipice of my existence to come to the conclusion that I applied too much pressure to my social interactions. I would sweat over dates; I would stutter and fidget. I was a wreck when it came to interacting with women or even male acquaintances.
After a brush with death, I realized that not only had I secluded myself, but I had gone about interacting with others the wrong way: I would put enormous amounts of pressure on myself to impress or to avoid embarrassment. I decided then, as I limped around the hospital with a tube 12 centimeters into my chest and emptying my inner fluids into a box that I held like a purse, that I wanted to meet people.
I know this sounds unbelievably simple; it is! But although meeting people was really difficult for me to do, I decided that it was not as hard as what I had just gone through. My experience grounded me, and it bestowed clarity. My original post implored others to not be shy, to not apply so much pressure, because life is short. I’m really concerned that the more reliant on technology we are, the less human we become—especially when it comes to meeting other humans!
I do not partake in online dating because I enjoy the moment I meet someone and we reveal ourselves to one another (with conversation, of course). I can gauge how friendly, how kind, how outgoing one is speaking to them for the first time in person, as opposed to online messages that are not limited by time constraints and facial gestures. Some like to skip that part: whatever, that’s fine. With this method, I have made many guy friends as well, usually guys who frequent the bar I go to. They introduce me to their friends, and before I know it, I have made five new acquaintances.
Or, as a dating approach, you could send a letter to the 500-year-old oak tree featured in the above film:
In June 1891, a young couple married under an oak tree in Germany’s Dodauer Forest. The newlyweds and the tree shared an undeniably romantic bond; during their courtship, they exchanged secret letters by dropping them into a knothole on the tree's trunk. Their story spread by word of mouth, and within decades, others began sending letters too. In 1927, Germany assigned the tree its own postal code. The legend of the “Bridegroom's Oak” was born.
Filmmaker Claudia Bracholdt’s utterly charming documentary considers the role of Bridegroom's Oak as both fairy tale and matchmaker. She interviews Karl Heinz Martens, a retired postal worker who delivered mail to the tree for more than 20 years. (“Usually, you have five to six letters a day,” he says. “But when the media reported on it, you easily had 40 to 50.”) He even has a love story of his own: he met his wife after she wrote him a letter—mailed to the Oak, of course—and he replied. They’ve been married ever since.
Here are two remaining emails from readers, the second one shaking his fist at the Internet cloud:
Great thread! Online dating, while I haven’t always relied on it, has for me been a net positive. Of the four serious relationships I’ve had in my life, two of them have been initiated online in some form. (One person I met on OKCupid and dated for nearly a year; the other was a friend of a friend who I had originally been “introduced” to on Facebook and whom I later ended up dating for three years after we found ourselves living in the same city.) The two initiated offline were typical younger person romances: high school and college, forced together by proximity with all the success that generally entails.
First, it has allowed me to met people on my terms. I’m friendly, talkative and outgoing, but I don’t open up that readily and therefore having the ability to pre-screen dates for some level of comfort and compatibility before I subject them to my Scandinavian-by-way-of-New-England manners and the obvious series of long pause-filled conversations that will ensue. In other words, I can appear aloof and standoffish if I don’t know you well. I don’t do first dates well (though I’m told I’m a fantastic second date) and I get along better with people who I already have some sort of comfort level with, which is why I often end up dating friends of friends. Online dating allows me to build rapport BEFORE the date and therefore not seem so damn boring.
Second, the first phase of my career had me moving around, a lot—like 20 addresses in eight years. If it weren't for craigslist, OKCupid, Tinder and the like, I would have spent a significant portion of that time lonely, horny, and just plain bored.
Online dating can be depressing and disappointing, but overall I’d say the experience has allowed me to open up to and connect with far more people than I would have if left to my wits. I’m happy for it and plan to keep it a part of my social strategy until I meet that special someone.
A very different view comes from a “25-year-old dude who absolutely loathes online dating”:
I have been called a Luddite many times in my life, but I consider myself a cultural savior for my stances. Online dating, in my opinion, mocks our very humanity and creates misanthropes, incapable of social interactions.
I made this opinion some time ago, when I was stuck in the hospital for a month after undergoing multiple procedures on my lung. For the first three weeks, I was confined to the floor my room was on. However, my doctor was generous, noticing my cabin fever, and allowed me to travel throughout the hospital for the last week. Mind you, I had not taken a proper shower in weeks, but due to the existential crises I had undergone in that time, I surmised I would not dither when I saw an attractive woman (one who was unoccupied, of course).
With a tube in my chest, trailing under my sweater, hospital socks with boat shoes, and soccer shorts, I approached one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen as she ate lunch with two of her girlfriends. My stench was palpable, my hair greasy, but no matter. Long story short, I hit it off with all three; we had a blast. I exchanged numbers with the girl and went on a few dates.
In conclusion, I want my generation, the Millennial generation, to realize we are not all that different. We are all insecure in some fashion, but we all want to interact with each other; we all want connections. If we didn’t, we wouldn't be making online dating profiles, would we?
So, when you are sitting at the coffee shop this afternoon, by yourself, and you see someone else, why not approach them, introduce yourself, and talk to each other? It doesn’t have to end with an exchange of phone numbers or a promise of future encounters. Don’t be like me, where it takes a life threatening moment to realize that staying to yourself is rather boring.
Keep me anonymous, please. And thanks for the Notes section!
Update from the first reader:
Just as an aside, I take issue with reader whose email followed mine. I find it offensive and othering that people who are for whatever reason effortlessly social (or, as we used to call them, glib) are somehow better or more deserving of relationships and that those of us who use some form of mediation are less than. Online dating is merely a digital variant of a singles scene that’s existed at least as long as traditional routes to marriage have been in decline. You might even argue that having a service that relies on an algorithm that puts people together in some way is in essence only little different from a matchmaker. Would that reader have been running around Anatevka pissing and moaning that none of Tevye’s daughters have earned it? (actually...)
The tendency to look down one’s nose at people who use online dating and color it with that broad-brush argument that digital mediation is killing the art of conversation would be offensive if it weren't so, you know, wrong. It’s a specious and fundamentally conservative argument that seeks to preserve the social primacy of the extroverted.
It’s a popular topic among readers, unsurprisingly, and many of them continue to have interesting insights. This Millennial reader certainly reflects her generation:
I’m a 32-year-old woman who has never have a long-term, committed, relationship initiated offline. My first real boyfriend was with another teenager whom I met in an AOL chatroom in 1998. My second serious relationship was started after responding to a Craigslist ad that a friend saw. Last year, after living traveling abroad and having flings and cross-cultural mis-relationships, I started using OKCupid, where I met someone I dated for a year. Then I got on Tinder, and after having a few flings, I met someone who I’ve been dating for a few months.
For most of my adult dating life, I’ve felt conflicted about my inability to have more serious relationships that start in other venues than online. I’ve spent some time thinking about this, but I hit the crux of why this works for me: 1) I’m shy; 2) with online dating, people are (usually) upfront about what they are looking for; and, 3) I have time to spool out the “getting-to-know-you” phase.
Another young woman with lots of experience dating online shares her lessons:
Hi Chris! Your reader’s note feels a little like the story of my life right now. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that love is so much more than and nowhere close to a fairy tale.
In short, I’ve been on 45 first dates in six months (not including second or more dates, or the hundreds of messages exchanged), and I’ve learned more about myself than I could ever imagine. More importantly, though, I learned what love should be. It’s not algorithmic, sure, but it’s also not a flash in the pan and all Cinderella-like where you look across the room and you see the person and fall madly in love with one life-changing look.
Online dating has taught me that love isn’t something that comes out of nowhere; it grows and it changes and it is, most importantly, a CHOICE. You choose the person you like being around the most and you make a choice to grow and learn and fight it out with someone. In a world (and especially a city!) where we constantly have what Barry Schwartz terms “the paradox of choice,” love is something that is special because it’s a choice to commit, and that’s hard to find.
In that way, online dating is the answer to so many questions and concerns. Life would be great if everyone could find that one person destined to be their great love, but I don’t believe that’s how it works. One day the shiny newness will go away, and we will have to choose to still muddle through together. I’m thankful that online dating allows me to get to know someone “long distance,” even if that just means I’m in Harlem and he is in Brooklyn. We can all put our needs and wants front and center, and the anonymity of online dating makes that easier than ever.
So online dating saved me in a weird way. It made me put my priorities in line so that I could articulate them to another person and weed out those who don’t want to commit to the same choice I do. It allowed me to realize that I have control of this ship, and sometimes that’s half the battle.
That theme of “choice” is especially emphasized with Bumble, the new-ish dating app that doesn’t allow men to initiate contact; women have to send the first message. It’s a small difference from other apps like Tinder but theoretically has a profound impact on dating culture, since it both empowers women to make the first move and lets guys off the hook for once—and limits offensive messages. Kelly Diamond, a blogger at xoJane,recently tried it out:
By forcing myself to take Bumble seriously after downloading it, I realized how hard it really is to reach out first. I understand now why some guys crack and say disgusting things. Their brains are haywire from all the pressure. It doesn’t mean I excuse their behavior in any way, but I (sort of) understand it.
Another reader provides a window into the very early days of online dating:
My experience happened before the ‘net had much to offer. First I put an ad on the local cable channel, which did lead to a six-month relationship. After that I took out an ad online for a site that let scientists connect for non-science interactions. Though that didn’t lead to a romantic relationship, I did communicate for several years with a woman I met there.
I subsequently took out an ad in the newspaper that got me three responses (though one of them left a six-digit phone number, either through a brain cramp or last-moment cold feet). I married one and have stayed friendly with the other. This was 18 years ago.
To me, the takeaway from this experience is how it short-circuits the typical tentative beginnings. Because I was quite frank and open about what I had to offer and what I was looking for, my future wife and I were able to have serious discussions immediately. If I attempted to talk about marriage, children, retirement locations, etc. on a first encounter in a bar, how likely would that lead to a relationship? But because my respondents “pre-screened” themselves (meaning any other woman who read my ad and wasn’t interested simply didn’t respond), we were able to cut through the typical uncertainty when meeting in any other social situation.
I suspect that these dating sites, algorithms or no, allow for the same sort of pre-screening that happened for me. (Though I didn’t get any information on them; it was all one-way back then). If your “about” page says you are looking for casual hookups, you won’t get any attention from someone looking for a long-term committed relationship. Try and make those sorts of screening decisions in a bar!
A final reader suggests some further reading:
I just thought I’d pass along an article about how a programmer found his fiancee through gaming the online dating system: “How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love.” As if to give both the “true love” and “love is probabilistic” viewpoints support, the programmer ended up proposing to a person he had only a 92 percent match with, as opposed to those the algorithm gave much higher probabilities for.
I may be coming at this discussion from a different perspective, but I think it’s an important one. I have cerebral palsy, which made traditional dating a little tough, to say the least. I’m lucky in that my case is extremely mild. The only visible indication is that I quite noticeably walk on my toes and am pigeon toed. But I do also have to deal with muscle, hip and knee pain, plus the occasional shakes.
None of this has stopped me from living a full life. I have a BA, have traveled through quite a bit of the country (though not nearly enough of it, or the wider world), performed Moliere and Shakespeare on stage, enjoyably got my ass kicked in many a mosh pit, lived on my own, and, much like many other people, was moderately successful in a cubicle-drone type of job that I didn’t particularly enjoy.
Being the shy, introverted soul that I am, walking into a bar, club, party, or any other similar social situation was nerve wracking at best. Couple that with the fact that I naturally draw unwanted attention simply by walking into a room, and my already high amount of social anxiety shoots right off the charts.
On the few occasions where I managed to gather myself and approach someone in a setting like this—usually with the help of a not inconsequential amount of alcohol—I was generally greeted with awkwardness and embarrassment after the inevitable “so … why do you walk like that?” question. Then it usually devolved into polite disinterest from them and one or both of us walking away. There were even a few instances with some variation on “oh, I just thought you were slow or something,” which didn’t bode well for future interactions.
Workplace romances also always seemed to end particularly badly for me, so I also swore those off by my late 20s. So my teens and early 20s were, without fail, dismal failures on the dating front.
Enter online dating. I initially hid my cerebral palsy from my profile and messages, fearing I would scare people off. And I assumed it would be no big deal to reveal this once we actually met. If we were already hitting it off during a date, why would it be a problem, right?
Well … after a couple awkward first dates where I was accused of lying by not disclosing this fact, I decided to put my CP front and center, recognizing the dishonesty in my thinking.
After these initial missteps, the beauty of online dating for someone in my situation really presented itself. Being able to communicate with someone who’s fully aware of who I am and everything that entails before committing to an in-person meeting made things far less intimidating and awkward when we finally did meet. We could have days or weeks of in-depth conversations, to the point that we feel like good friends before ever laying eyes on each other in real life.
I had my first real, serious relationships with women I met online, and while obviously not all of them turn out perfectly, I did eventually strike gold. I met my wife online and am now more in love than I ever thought I would be. We met shortly after exchanging a few messages and have never looked back. (And yes, like your other reader, we were matched by the OKCupid algorithm.) I enthusiastically followed her across the country so she could follow her career, and now I get to stay home and spend all day taking care of our 18-month-old twin girls and their two-and-a-half-year-old big sister. I couldn’t be happier.
I’m certain there are others out there with CP or a different condition who can light up a room with their raw animal magnetism and have no problem finding dates and relationships. I was not one of those people. For this shy, nerdy kid with CP, online dating really did save me. I have no doubt that I’d still be single if not for OKC, and for this I thank Mr. Rudder. I obviously can’t speak for everyone with disabilities or severe social anxiety, but I imagine that others in similar situations have had similar experiences.
I just read your very interesting post about online dating. After a long string of failed conventional relationships, all of them with women I met in college courses or extracurricular activity groups, after graduation I shifted over to online dating. I had just broken up with the last girlfriend I knew from my college years and was working very long hours in my new career. That mixture of a much busier schedule and being completely severed from my college network of friends really did a number on my social life.
So online dating was actually a bit of a last-ditch measure at the time. But long-term, it turned out to be for the best, and I think I was “Saved” in exactly the manner your reader describes. After something like 200 messages sent out over multiple sites and 20 or so face-to-face meetings, I met my future wife via OKCupid in 2009 and got married the following year. Five years later, things are as good as ever.
The biggest benefit of online dating to me was that it exponentially increased my pool of potential mates, far beyond the choices available during any of my years in school. I grew up in a small town in rural northern Pennsylvania and was completely miserable around the opposite gender in high school.
College started out the same way, but after making a few lifestyle adjustments two years in, I was at least able to have meaningful—though over-dramatically dysfunctional—romantic relationships. If online dating had not existed, I think I would have had no choice but to “settle” for one of these women I met in college, due of a lack of other options. But I know I would not have been completely happy long-term being with someone with whom I wasn’t 100 percent compatible, setting myself up for affairs, divorces, or other nasty events later in marriage.
It’s important to note that my wife and I met on an algorithm-based dating site like OKCupid, and not the shallow “meat markets” like Tinder that have become more popular since we met. My wife and I are both techie/intellectual types, and while we’re not ugly, we’re not the type of people likely to prosper in an environment like Tinder where looks are everything and words are meaningless.
So I hope despite controversies such as the OKCupid founder playing “mad scientist” with his matching algorithms, that there will still be a place out there for other dating sites used by ordinary-looking people who want to connect on an intellectual level.
Another reader makes an interesting connection:
I haven’t read Dataclysm, and since I’ve been married 35 years, I’m not dating off or online. But your reader made a perceptive comment about algorithms that made me think of matchmakers and arranged marriages.
I live in China, where the title of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” describes a surprisingly common attitude towards marriage. Stable job, house, car, status, future, health—those are the things that count. Maybe you love, maybe you don’t. A rather objective consideration of financial prospects carries more weight.
Except in some remote areas, matchmakers are uncommon, and arranged marriages have all but disappeared. But I think the algorithms of online dating are emerging as fair substitutes.
A reader just stumbled upon a piece Jim Kozube wrote for us last year, “Love Is Not Algorithmic,” which is deeply skeptical of online dating:
As a pure coincidence, I’m actually reading Christian Rudder’s Dataclysm right now and enjoying it. I think Kozube is taking a bit too harsh a view on this book, but I might also be misreading his intentions. As a software engineer, I’m enjoying Dataclysm because I spend every day thinking about the best ways to manage large volumes of online data. I think it’s important for us, in this age of “big data,” to understand what kinds of data are being collected, how this pool of data is currently being analyzed, and what the future applications for it might be.
So I don’t see Dataclysm as some sort of futuristic “turning love into equations” robo-pick-up-artist manual. I think it’s supposed to be more of a “hey, look at the trends that are appearing in this staggeringly huge pool of data we’ve collected over the years. Isn’t this neat?”
I also wish that people wouldn’t keep getting so worked up about technology replacing love. It’s possible that I’m just speaking from the viewpoint of the single (as a 25-year-old woman with no long-lasting relationships since high school). I mean, yes, love is obviously this great and amazing thing. But love can also be horrible, especially when it’s not working out for us.
When I was a depressed 19-23 year old, one of the largest contributing factors to feeling I’d never do anything worthwhile with my life was the fact that I couldn’t get any of my relationships to stick. I fell hard for a lot of people, and they were just never as interested in me. You know how I got over that cycle? Online dating.
Online dating made me realize you can have casual relationships, then they can end, and the world doesn’t end with them. It made me realize that when relationships don’t work out, it’s almost never the fault of one person. Sometimes people just don’t get along, and that’s completely normal, because some people are just not your type, or you aren’t theirs—and that doesn’t mean anyone is a bad person.
It made me realize that, yes, love is great and amazing and whatever, but you can survive without romantic love. And I think it’s good to, at times, be able to apply that more scientific, algorithmic representation to love, because then you can take a step back from it and survey it objectively when your idealization of it, and your painful awareness of your imagined failure to achieve it, might be destroying you.
Kozube also makes a point that he would overall rather stick with Badiou than read Dataclysm. That’s perfectly valid. However, I just want to counter: why not both? Reading things we might not agree with or enjoy is how we challenge our own opinions and strengthen our convictions. I’m enjoying Dataclysm. I’ve also read, in full, such books as Moby-Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Blood Meridian, so I feel like my lit cred can’t be questioned here. Don’t be like this about literature. Not all literature needs to be serious and full of lofty ideals.
Sometimes the loftiest of ideals are disguised in the simplest of language. Sometimes it’s much harder to make a truly universal, meaningful point in words that everyone can understand.
If you had a big breakthrough with online dating you want to share, drop me an email.
A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.
At least one human life has already been lost as a direct result of the widespread obsession with turning the sex of one’s unborn child into an explosive (often literally) spectacle. In October, an Iowa woman was killed when her family inadvertently built a pipe bomb as part of their gender-reveal party—a gathering at which expectant parents dramatically and colorfully announce the sex of their baby.
The methods for doing so seem to have started out as benign, if stereotypical—cutting into a cake to reveal either blue or pink frosting, say. But in the past couple of years, some kind of communal madness has taken hold, and many of these feats of gender performance have gotten more elaborate, more public, and more dangerous—putting lives and entire ecosystems at risk. Last year, a father-to-be started a 47,000-acre wildfire in Arizona when he shot a rifle at an explosive target full of blue powder (It’s a boy!), causing $8.2 million of damage, according to the Arizona Daily Star. The latest instance of a gender reveal gone wildly wrong, as The New York Times reported on Friday, involved a plane that stalled and crashed while crop-dusting a Texas field with 350 gallons of pink water in honor of an unborn female child. No one was killed in either incident, but someone easily could have been. Othergender-reveal-relatedexplosions, and one reveal involving an alligator, have also placed people in harm’s way.
Suppose that the biblical story of Creation were true: God created the universe in six days, including all the laws of physics and all the physical constants that apply throughout the universe. Now imagine that one day, in the early 21st century, God became bored and, just for fun, doubled the gravitational constant. What would it be like to live through such a change? We’d all be pulled toward the floor; many buildings would collapse; birds would fall from the sky; the Earth would move closer to the sun, reestablishing orbit in a far hotter zone.
Let’s rerun this thought experiment in the social and political world, rather than the physical one. The U.S. Constitution was an exercise in intelligent design. The Founding Fathers knew that most previous democracies had been unstable and short-lived. But they were excellent psychologists, and they strove to create institutions and procedures that would work with human nature to resist the forces that had torn apart so many other attempts at self-governance.
Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side
Images above: A protestor holding a sign that reads “Abortion Is Freedom” and protestors holding anti-abortion signs
In 1956, twoAmerican physicians, J. A. Presley and W. E. Brown, colleagues at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, decided that four recent admissions to their hospital were significant enough to warrant a published report. “Lysol-Induced Criminal Abortion” appeared in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. It describes four women who were admitted to the hospital in extreme distress, all of them having had “criminal abortions” with what the doctors believed to be an unusual agent: Lysol. The powerful cleaner had been pumped into their wombs. Three of them survived, and one of them died.
HONG KONG—For months now, I’ve been told that Hong Kong’s protests would end soon. They’ll end when school starts, I heard during the summer. School did start, but the protests wore on, only now I saw high-school students in crisp school uniforms joining the protesters’ ranks. Next, the mask ban of early October was supposed to slow protesters down, but the very first day after that ban, I watched streams of protesters in masks and helmets make their way to their usual haunts on Hong Kong Island.
The government shut down many of the subway lines that day, a practice that has become a de facto curfew, because Hong Kong’s über-efficient subway system is the way most people get around. No matter; the protesters ended up walking, sometimes a lot, and I walked with them, asking some of the same questions I had asked for months: Do you think you will continue protesting? What would it take for you to stop?
Things were getting bad even before the 2016 election, but somehow, within just a few years, they have gotten worse. In an environment of intense partisan warfare, each side believes it has a claim to lead the nation based on its own set of values. Each side understands that it has more to gain from aggrievement than achievement, and each side beholds the other with contempt. Meanwhile, the republic seems to be unraveling. A culture of anxiety and depression has spread far and wide as people face health crises without access to affordable care. An opioid epidemic ensnares ever larger numbers of the alienated and desperate; among certain groups, life spans are actually shortening. Some of those who aren’t harming themselves are harming others in mass shootings; many of the killers are infected with an ideology of white supremacy. Also, the prisons are full. The economy, at least, seems to be in decent shape for now, but income inequality continues to widen. Jobs are plentiful, which is good, because it often takes more than one to support a family. But the economic energy of a rich country has not eased the strains on our political institutions—money flowing to politicians has only hardened the gridlock. Congress still can’t get anything done. Tax cuts have left the country short of money to address national problems. The gulf between needs and capacities is glaring. Everyday scenes sometimes resemble New Yorker covers designed by Pravda: In Manhattan, the Harvard Club’s elegant dining room backs onto West 45th Street, where men and women sleep beneath damp cardboard in the warm glow of the club’s windows.
Unmet hype created a viral clash between Drake and the audience at Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, but it might just work in his favor.
Editorial writers, assemble—there’s been another demonstration that civility in America is dead! Drake, the Canadian rapper, actor, singer, and, as of last week, marijuana entrepreneur, took to the stage last night at the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, a music festival in Los Angeles. He played a few songs. The crowd grumbled so much that he left. To summarize, the biggest rapper in the world was booed off stage at a big rap concert—a telling story about toxic buzz storms, the vagaries of coolness, and Drake’s special relationship with the phenomenon of public shaming.
The footage of Drake’s exit feels like a scene in a biopic—a scene you’d watch through your fingers so as to avoid the protagonist’s nightmare from replaying in your own dreams. He’s performing the final lines of his song “Wu-Tang Forever,” but they sound lonely and weak, rapped by inertia. Faint woos and scattered claps reply. Drake walks in a tight circle. He addresses the crowd with the pre-confrontation politenessthat a boss might use to broach the subject of Juuling in the office: “You know, I’mma tell you, like I said …”
The gravest danger to American democracy isn’t an excess of vitriol—it’s the false promise of civility.
Joe Biden has fond memories of negotiating with James Eastland, the senator from Mississippi who once declared, “I am of the opinion that we should have segregation in all the States of the United States by law. What the people of this country must realize is that the white race is a superior race, and the Negro race is an inferior race.”
Recalling in June his debates with segregationists like Eastland, Biden lamented, “At least there was some civility,” compared with today. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition; the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
Our grasp on what it takes to sustain a democracy is slipping.
In 1838, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois. The subject was citizenship and the preservation of America’s political institutions. The backdrop was the threat posed to those institutions by the evil of slavery. Lincoln warned that the greatest danger to the nation came from within. All the armies of the world could not crush us, he maintained, but we could still “die by suicide.”
And now, today, we look around. Our politics are paralyzing the country. We practice suspicion or contempt where trust is needed, imposing a sentence of anger and loneliness on others and ourselves. We scorch our opponents with language that precludes compromise.
The three leading GOP defenses of the president contradict one another.
Give Mac Thornberry this much: Unlike some of his Republican colleagues, he was at least trying.
On Sunday the Texas Republican appeared on ABC’s This Week, where he tentatively offered a message on the impeachment inquiry, which enters its public phase with hearings this Wednesday and Friday. Thornberry sought a middle course.
“I believe that it is inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival,” he said. “I believe it was inappropriate. I do not believe it was impeachable.”
Debatable, but coherent. But from there, things went off the rails. First, Thornberry inadvertently compared President Donald Trump to a rapist or murderer while critiquing the procedure House Democrats have used (though perhaps he is not far off). He then offered the defense that Trump couldn’t be impeached because the abuse of power in the Ukraine scandal is his standard operating procedure. “There’s not anything that the president said in that phone call that’s different than he says in public all the time,” he said.