Rewarding Generosity with Spite
The politics of being a jerk.
This week’s newsletter is going to be fairly short, due to some family and work-related issues I’m navigating. So, rather than doing a deep-dive into any particular topic, I figured I’d touch on something I saw on social media last week that kind of irked me.
It was a tweet from self-described comedian, Jason Selvig, who has made a bit of a name for himself from online videos featuring him and his partner immersing themselves in various political movements. A lot of the videos are of the man-on-the-street nature, in which the two present themselves as journalists, and ask polite but probing questions of political supporters and protesters. The idea is to get those they question (who know they’re on camera) to reveal the shallowness or hypocrisy of the positions they hold. The Daily Show used to do something similar.
I don’t have much of a problem with Selvig’s gimmick, since he tends to ask fair and reasonable questions of willing participants, but I did have a problem with this:
Apparently, Selvig spotted former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at the airport, approached him pretending to be an admirer, and asked him for a selfie (which Ryan, a busy guy, kindly agreed to)... all so Selvig could later post the picture online to call Ryan names, and hail his own chutzpah.
Talk about cowardice.
Of course, there have been many far worse examples of incivility and indecency in today’s politics; I’ve addressed lots of them in my political writing over the years. But this particular instance bugged me because the personal spite came directly at the expense of an act of kindness and generosity toward a stranger.
In this case, Paul Ryan was the target. But it wouldn’t matter to me if it was Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, or any one of a large number of polarizing (or not-so-polarizing) political figures. If a politician — or anyone else for that matter — extends to you a gesture of personal kindness, you shouldn’t use that gesture as a springboard for publicly disparaging them with personal insults.
We all have our political gripes and grudges, and platforms from which to voice them. But certain platforms and premises should give way to common decency, and situations like this are among them.
Rewarding selfless generosity with spite is nothing to be proud of, nor is it particularly clever or funny. It’s just a jerk move. Let’s be better.
Disagree with me? Feel free to let me know in an email, or in the comments section below.
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