A nation at war with itself

What’s wrong with people?

I bet you’ve shaken your head and wondered the exact same thing lately. It’s obvious that a lot of folks — in both political parties — have a “chip” missing that prevents them from knowing what constitutes inappropriate behavior.

They may have majored in social studies and mastered social media, but they are in urgent need of social skills.

Who knows how these folks got this way. Their parents should have detected this glitch in their wiring and tried to fix it with therapy. Or maybe their peer group in high school and college could have drummed it out of them with a disapproving: “Not cool, man.”

But somehow, somewhere, someone missed a stitch. And here we are — with perhaps millions of Americans roving around, bumping into each other, invading each other’s space, and offending one another left and right. Literally.

If you’re on the left and still baffled by how anyone could support President Donald Trump, you’re convinced our descent into incivility began with his ascension to the White House.

If you’re on the right, you likely blame the national tsunami of rudeness on the anti-Trump media and their soul mates in the Democratic Party who want to run Trump out of office — or at least defeat him for re-election in 2020.

Politics has never been a beanbag. Yet these days — in the aftermath of the horrid 2016 presidential election with its no-win choice between “bad” and “worse” — something feels different.

Everything is much more personal. People are meaner, angrier and unhappier. Folks lose an election, and they get upset. They win an election, and they get even more upset.

Half the country hates the guts of the other half, and vice versa. Americans have always liked to fight, but now — when they fight each other — they no longer fight fair. They’re always in each other’s faces and questioning each other’s motives.

Most of all, now that we know everything that everyone is doing at every hour of the day thanks to social media, we feel more comfortable feeling superior to one another. Everyone seems to think they’re better than everyone else. Conservatives think they’re more patriotic. Liberals think they’re more compassionate. Moderates think they’re more open-minded.

And because we have such a high opinion of ourselves and such a low opinion of everyone else, we can justify bad behavior toward those who, we tell ourselves, get what they deserve.

However we got here, America is in awfully bad shape. We’re way past the minor annoyances of drivers cutting us off on the freeway and then claiming two spots in a parking lot.

This isn’t just about anti-Trump protesters ripping pro-Trump signs out of the hands of Trump supporters and tearing them up, or Trump supporters chanting “Lock her up!” at rallies whenever someone brings up Hillary Clinton.

Americans’ bout with bad manners isn’t limited to people being obnoxiously loud on a subway, littering in a park, cutting in line at amusement parks, and filing into the express checkout line at the supermarket with double the number of items permitted.

It’s not even about the madness that has permeated academics, where students scold professors and demand “safe spaces” from ideas that they find upsetting.

All that is pretty bad. But it’s still nickels and dimes.

We should be more worried that Trump boorishly crossed another line this week when, during a rally in Mississippi, he turned Christine Blasey Ford — who alleges she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were in their teens — into a punchline. It is wrong to drag a possible crime victim into the political arena.

We should be worried about gatherings like the recent Atlantic Festival in Washington, where people who think they’re the smart kids in class show that they’re not too smart because they react to opposing views like a vampire reacts to a cross. This past week, the crowd booed Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, for saying that Kavanaugh had been “treated like crap.”

And we should be worried about the infamous Senate elevator ambush, where Democratic activists claiming to be sexual-assault victims got into the personal space of Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, and harangued him on his way to work on the Judiciary Committee — and then videotaped the whole fiasco. “Look at me!” one of the women repeatedly screamed at Flake.

We are looking at you, America. And we’re disgusted by what we see.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

© 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group