John Chuckman



“People Aren’t Having Intelligent Conversations Anymore, They’re Just Yelling at Each Other”


I agree with the tone of the article.

But the United States has never been a place where what the French call “politesse” featured. It is a myth for anyone to think so.

Going back to President Andrew Jackson, who horsewhipped an opponent and who regularly challenged men to duels, this plainly is the fact. Yet note that his image is honored today on the twenty-dollar bill.

You can never forget all those years of slavery – Jackson owned gangs of them (As did Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and others) – which entailed public auctions of slaves stripped of their clothes, including women who were sometimes bought by lonely rural farmers for “company.”

Slavery existed for the best part of a century in the formal United States, but of course it went back long before that in order to build the colonial society that would become strong enough to seek independence.

The culture and undertone of much of America were heavily colored for the future by this pervasive and poisonous institution. It was definitely was not one that encouraged conversations among either camps, supporters and opponents. There were violent disagreements and brawls by politicians over much of the era.

The fact that slave owners quite typically slept with pistols and/or hunting knives under their pillows or within easy reach, such was the constant paranoid fear of slave rebellion, explains a great deal about America’s violent gun culture down to this day and its relations between black and white citizens.

Slavery, de facto, continued for about a century after the Civil War (1861-5) in the South’s sharecropper system combined with Jim Crow Laws. You know, even when Franklin Roosevelt was President in the 1930s, lynching in town squares was common. It was even a practice, in parts of the South, to hold family picnics on the grass at a lynching.

Then for much of the same period, we had America’s treatment of Native people. Again, early on, the honored Andrew Jackson featured. He signed a bill called the Indian Removal Act which was to uproot tens of thousands of peaceful Natives belonging to about half a dozen tribes like the Cherokee in America’s Southeast, people who in many cases practiced agriculture, and drive them with the American Cavalry to what was then the remote west, Oklahoma Territory, a land that had no relationship to the places like Florida whey had lived and farmed for a long time. It was quite a different climate and physical geography into which they were unceremoniously dumped.

This forcible removal, named the Trail of Tears (1830s), caused the deaths of several thousand by hunger, exhaustion, and exposure. This was a big number in those days when military battles losses were often counted in hundreds. Their farms and settlements and resources in the Southeast were greedily seized by white Americans.

Years later, as American population grew and pushed West, we had the Indian Wars, which involved the American Calvary’s again driving Natives off their lands. Since these were not mainly settled farmers but migrating hunters on horseback, the tactics used against them were much harsher. Whole villages were burned down and all the people killed, just as though they were packs of wild animals being subdued. It was viewed about the same way as farmers shooting coyotes or wolves.

We have old photos of things like a Cavalry Trooper posed proudly with his boot on a man’s dead body, resembling an image from the film, “Planet of Apes,” and of long trench-like mass graves into which rows of bodies were flung, something resembling smaller, rural versions of Auschwitz.

As America continued to expand and drive westward, there was a constant sequence of such violent events, including the appalling and unwarranted Mexican War (1846-8) intended only to steal land from Mexico.

Still later in the 1890s, we had America’s seizure of the Hawaiian Islands, a place which had its own royalty and an established society. The Hawaiians were overwhelmingly opposed to Washington’s rule and sent a delegation to submit a petition signed by virtually everyone on the islands. No one in Washington would even speak to them. They were ignored and treated with contempt.

The ruthlessness and crudity weren’t limited to stealing land and killing natives. Americans practiced the kind of wholesale theft of what today is called “intellectual property” from Europe. Many mechanisms and machines, as for farming, were purchased in Europe, shipped to America, and then copied. This was done with anything you care to mention, even books. Charles Dickens got quite bitter about the way a new book of his would appear shortly after publication in London as a separate edition in Boston. He never saw a penny in royalties. It is ironic that today America feels so self-righteous about the Chinese, for example, in this regard. All they are seeing is their own history repeated.

Well, that’s just a part of the story, but a surprising number of Americans have no idea of the brutality involved in America’s growth. There was mighty little civility ever. America was, and remains, in many respects a raw place. G B Shaw joked that it went from barbarism to decadence without ever passing through civilization. The fact that we still laugh at the joke tells us something of its sharp truth.

A lot of what people complain of today in political discussion reflects some effects of the Internet. All the ugly thoughts and words that once were reserved for the streets and alleys now are put on view for anyone to share, and they do share them. And believe me, having grown up in Chicago in the 1950s, there was plenty of ugly stuff around. There was just no way to broadcast it, except graffiti, and there was plenty of that.

Look at Trump. You simply could not find a ruder, more careless-mouthed man if you tried, and here he is, as President, constantly sending out thoughtless, libelous, and brutal words. Maybe the incivility of much of the Internet helped pave the way for acceptance of his record-setting public crudity.

Candidates for President were once limited by something so simple as having been divorced. Although those kinds of limits were a social pretense, representing a lot of hypocrisy and dishonesty, we have dropped the pretense. And we have dropped the pretense about the rudeness and crude expression that was always there in private.

In many ways, Trump represents a large portion of contemporary American society. The words and thoughts are not new, but the method of widespread transmission is, as is the ready willingness to use it. And note that he is not ignored, by the mainline press or anyone else. His stupidities if unreported would have far less effect, but his words are reported and commented upon and copied daily.

I think it probably is creating something of a downward spiral in the public tone of discussion as people become accustomed to nasty language, ugly thoughts, and prejudice openly broadcast on the Internet, even by the President of the country. Experience suggests that any practice which becomes much repeated, one way or another, tends to drive things even further along. New norms keep being set.

By that, I’m not advocating any form of censorship, something to which I’m utterly opposed, but I am making it clear that we are unavoidably into a new era of public discussion, although I think “discussion” a wholly inadequate word, carrying, as it does, the connotation of calm and rational exchange of ideas.

Indeed, the whole discussion of notions like “fake news,” a Trump favorite with its pejorative and accusatory tone, is muddled and meaningless since all sides in the debate constantly engage in lying, distortion, and hypocrisy. That goes for The New York Times and Washington Post as much as it does for an outfit like Breitbart News.

Everyone wants to get their views “out there,” with little authentic regard for facts. Outfits like The Times still maintain a façade of tone and claim of respectability, but behind the façade, they have an immensely long history of dishonesty and promoting ugly establishment interests, supporting wars and coups and aggression and imperialism in polite words. I actually do not find that more attractive than what we are getting with the Internet. They are both repulsive for anyone who wants to understand some truth.

And I stress that the nastiness and brutality have always been there as an integral part of American culture, only lacking a mechanism of direct communication to large numbers and perhaps being tamped down somewhat by a desire to seem a bit less crude in public. An awareness that others in the world did not engage in quite the same way and responded badly to it may have played a role. But such niceties are lost today.

Traditional religious values may have played a role too in tamping down the public tone, but not only is traditional religion declining rather quickly, a good deal of what remains in America has morphed into bizarre forms with preachers in some cases having parishioners bring their guns to church services or preaching in fervent support of the kind of absolutely brutal violence we see in Israel. Ditto for invoking God’s blessings on “our troops” as they illegally invade yet another country and bomb more women and children.

Actually, the traditional press used to act as something of a filtering mechanism. A great deal of ugly stuff never made it out for anyone’s attention, but it was in fact still there in private. That same impulse to maintain an appearance of civility brought many dishonesties to journalism.

Americans never even knew facts like Roosevelt being wheel chair-bound or Kennedy being anything but a family man or Nixon, around the time of his resignation, putting his wife into the hospital with a serious beating.

And likewise, they never knew the lies and most of the horror of Korea or Vietnam or Iraq. The absolutely massive levels of brutality, as the fact that one-fifth of the entire population of North Korea was exterminated by three years of American carpet bombing. Or that America left Vietnam having killed 3 million souls with more carpet bombing and napalm and early cluster bombs, also leaving the land packed with landmines and soaked with Agent Orange to keep killing and crippling for decades.

Even earlier, there was journalism’s lies about things like “Remember the Maine” in the deliberately-engineered Spanish-American War, a false slogan which made its way into American grade school history books as fact.

The Internet puts much into plain view, but it also does so with a new confusion, a chaotic situation in which ugly fact and ugly myth and deliberate propaganda all come jumbled together. Only people who carefully read and assess and balance realize its potential for communicating truth, but such people always anywhere are a minority.

The chaotic nature of so much “discussion” in America is, just like the country’s brutality and crudeness, simply a part of America’s heritage.


Response some days later to someone who wrote a long and angry comment:

There’s an old saying you might profitably make note of.

It’s usually a good idea to know the words to the music before you get up to sing.

Nothing worse than using a statistic you’ve picked up somewhere to attempt characterizing a situation you clearly have no understanding of.

Only a few percent of Americans were slaveholders?

My God, it is only a few percent of any population that are criminal, but they influence us all every day of our lives.

They make police forces necessary. They make courts necessary. And prison systems and guards and wardens. They make an entire criminal legal system necessary with criminal lawyers, judges, juries, parole boards, the acts of politicians legislating, etc. Their acts fill our newspapers and broadcasting, causing much fear and upset in many ordinary people. Their acts are the topic of endless private and public discussion.

And just so slavery, perhaps even more so. I’ve read a good deal of serious history of the United states. Slavery and all of its related issues colored and affected everything from the way the Constitution was written to import laws to the courts and political arguments. It affected the careers of politicians, it affected law enforcement, North and South, it affected the courts and their decisions. It affected attitudes of people. Its pervasive and noxious influence never went away, having absolutely no connection with the number of slaveholders.

A person of any understanding knows that this is the case for a great many parts of human affairs. Today, we have the economic issue of the extremely lopsided distribution of wealth and income and the “one-percent.” And I suppose you think they do not affect almost everything in society because of their small number? Its politics and the candidates of its political parties? Its laws? Its wars and turmoil? Its taxation system? The government’s treatment of those less fortunate?

As for Trump, do you really think the approach of some corporate business people should characterize government? The ways of Google or Apple or Amazon or John D. Rockefeller or Henry Ford? There are many reasons for thinking that is a terrible idea. Such people already have inordinate influence on government and its policies., and astute observers on both the Left and the Right agree.

Running a company and running a government are two very different things. Different skills. Different understanding. Different expectations. And working under different sets of rules.

Trump is an exceedingly ignorant and impatient man, and he did not even write “The Art of the Deal,” of which he told us he is so proud. He paid a ghostwriter. And that ghostwriter has now spoken out several times about his private observations of Trump. He is an appalling man who listens to no one, is totally obsessed with his own opinions, and is rude and unpleasant. He, of course, only confirms the views of other outsiders who have worked near Trump and written about it.

And do you really think it is the job of a head of government to publicly insult various of its citizens? That is the behavior of an angry child, and a not very pleasant child. He is supposed to be president of all the people, not just some. Imagine Putin doing this in Russia? No, Putin only speaks to the kind of matters a President should speak to. He has what we used to call “class,” a quality utterly missing in Trump. You, know, some of his cheap-bully remarks, here or there, might seem funny at first to some because we’ve never heard their like before, but they do in fact lasting and long-term damage to society.

Again, the number of lynchings, which you obviously regard as small and try to minimize? What an asinine statistic to quote. It addresses nothing but your own ego. I am well familiar with it, but it has nothing to do with what I said.

By the way, from some of your remarks you show that you did not even understand what I wrote. Hard to know why you would want to comment then, but one detects in your tone that same Trumpian quality, a person ready to open his mouth, and loudly, without ever pausing to think.



Posted August 2, 2018 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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