When did it become acceptable to attempt to completely destroy a person because one merely disagreed with their political views? We're not talking about destroying their argument, but personal destruction.
Much of it can be laid at the feet of today's social media environment, but it goes beyond that.
This past week we saw Twitter catch fire with calls to boycott Olive Garden restaurant because someone erroneously tweeted Olive Garden was contributing to President Trump's campaign. Let's leave aside for a moment that the information was completely false and that Olive Garden had to issue a statement it didn't contribute to any presidential candidates.
It was part of a very disturbing trend that seems to deem that anybody or anything that doesn't conform with one's political views, must be destroyed. This seek-and-destroy mentality lays waste to any chance of meaningful political dialogue.
If it only applied to misguided attempts to keep people from eating breadsticks at Olive Garden, it could be simply laughed off, however, it runs deeper. Repeatedly, we see attempts to not just destroy people personally, but also their livelihoods.
Expressing political opinions, especially in strong, direct terms, can be dicey. Such expressions are prone to elicit strong reactions. It's been that way for centuries. But the complete lack of tolerance for other views has become a cancer on society. Yelling that people are Nazis or white supremacists for having basic policy disagreements has distressingly become the norm.
TV show host Laura Ingraham, whose views are pretty much mainstream conservative, has frequently been the target of boycotts because she expresses opinions on illegal immigration. Much of what she expresses is not at all radical. In fact, what she says today pretty well lines up with the thoughts and words once expressed by President Clinton or President Obama.
Yet, because she wants to see immigration follow basic tenets of the law, she has not only been (unsuccessfully) boycotted, but of course been called a white supremacist, which couldn't be more untrue.
Ingraham has three adopted children, including her oldest daughter Maria, who was adopted from Guatemala. Hardly the profile of a white supremacist. But social media justice mobs can't be bothered with such facts. Destruction of those with opposite views is too important to be bothered with inconvenient truths.
But it's not just Twitter. It seems reasonable to assume many of the millennial-based Twitter-ragers matriculated in college under the tutelage of equally intolerant college professors who do little but fuel and encourage intolerance.
After President Trump tweeted, calling out antifa for attacking people with baseball bats, Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College adjunct English professor Jeff Klinzman posted on Iowa antifa's Facebook page, "Yeah, I know who I would like to clock with a bat ..."
Klinzman told an Iowa TV station, "I affirm I am antifa." Keep in mind antifa has been linked to the outbreak of violence in Portland where its masked members also have been alleged to have attacked a journalist.
With profs like that, is it any wonder there is increasing intolerance?
Thankfully, I was fortunate to have encountered professors during my college days who encouraged meaningful dialogue.
I am forever grateful to one prof, whose views certainly didn't line up with mine, for engaging me in discussions that were thoughtful and challenging, yet never demeaning. He even provided me with a treasure trove of tapes from William F. Buckley Jr'.s NPR show, "Firing Line."
Already a fan of Buckley, these tapes demonstrated how completely polar opposite views could engage in fierce, yet respectful, debate. Of course, it helped, from my perspective, that Buckley usually took his woefully ill-equipped combatants to the woodshed by the sheer power of his intellect and vocabulary. In the end, no minds were changed, but nobody was being pilloried with vile pejoratives either.
Today, Buckley's intellect and debating acumen are sorely missed.
Instead, we are treated to pundits like Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin appearing on CNN proclaiming "we have to collectively, in essence, burn down the Republican Party. We have to level them because if there are survivors, if there are people who weather this storm, they will do it again." Can there be more irresponsible, incendiary, intolerant and intellectually dishonest language in these highly polarized times than that which could be interpreted to encourage violence?
Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be much hope in seeing the temperature dialed down or the intemperate language getting curbed as long as the loudest, most outrageous, petulant voices get all the attention.
Maybe even more unfortunate, there doesn't appear to be room any longer for somebody like Buckley in this era. An era that may be remembered primarily for the death of civil political discourse.
Ruthenberg is a multiple award-winning columnist and writer for the Enid News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.