In 2002, longtime Washington Post conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote: "To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil."
The opinionated Krauthammer, known for pointed reasoning but also for championing civility in political discourse, headlined that column "No-respect politics." And in it, he explained his reasoning for this "fundamental" law:
"Liberals tend to be nice, and they believe — here is where they go stupid — that most everybody else is nice too. Deep down, that is ... Liberals believe that human nature is fundamentally good. The fact that this is contradicted by, oh, 4,000 years of human history simply tells them how urgent is the need for their next seven-point program for the social reform of everything ...
"Accordingly, the conservative attitude toward liberals is one of compassionate condescension. Liberals are not quite as reciprocally charitable. It is natural. They think conservatives are mean. How can conservatives believe in the things they do — self-reliance, self-discipline, competition, military power — without being soulless? How to understand the conservative desire to actually abolish welfare, if it is not to punish the poor? ..."
The column — like most published in the late Krauthammer's 34-year career at the Post — was written before Donald Trump darkened our lives.
It's increasingly hard these days to not to question whether respect for the other side — any other side — is relevant in a time when our president calls members of his own party who dare to disagree with him "human scum." And even that is far kinder than what he says about Democrats.
But we can't completely blame the ugliness of today's political dialogue on Trump. That would give him too much credit.
It wasn't Trump whom Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines criticized 16 years ago in an offhand effort to connect with an audience in London in 2003 as news was buzzing worldwide about then-President George W. Bush and America's impending invasion of Iraq.
"Just so you know, we're on the good side with y'all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas," she said as she introduced the group's latest single, "Travelin' Soldier."
The Guardian published her comments, and when they were reported back home in the U.S., the backlash was astounding — and ridiculous.
Country radio stations were swamped with calls from fans to stop playing their music, and did. Protesters piled their records and CDs in parking lots and publicly ran over them with tractors. Their tour sponsor dropped them. They got death threats. They were essentially blacklisted in Nashville and shunned by most of country music's who's whos.
But then came social media. And Trump.
"After President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin's news conference Monday [July 16, 2018] in Helsinki, in which Trump called the United States 'foolish' and sided with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies that said Russia interfered in the 2016 election, social media had plenty to say. But one theme kept cropping up: the Dixie Chicks."
That was the first sentence of a Washington Post story about Trump's Helsinki performance. The story was about the Twitter fire that erupted in outrage over our president disbelieving 17 American security agency conclusions that Russia interfered with our 2016 election and his alternative embrace of the Russia denial of that interference. The president said this on foreign soil, no less, with Putin at his side.
More than one responding tweet read something like this one: "Remember when Republicans were incensed about American citizens criticizing America on foreign soil? I bet The Dixie Chicks do. I know I do."
In this new social media world, civil political discourse has devolved to shaming political discourse, with Trump leading the charge.
In mid-August of 2016, just a few months before Trump won the presidency, the Dixie Chicks returned to Nashville to give a sold-out, packed-house show at the Bridgestone Arena.
Thirteen years after a bantering remark resulted in their exile from county music, this time they brought to their largely sold-out 55-city tour biting political commentary and — in Cincinnati, at least — a giant image of then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump embellished with horns on his head and a devilish goatee.
Maines had taken to Twitter, too. "I get banned for not liking Bush and now Trump can practically put a hit out on Hillary and he's still all over country radio!" she tweeted about a week before the Nashville show. "Hypocrites!"
Just as Krauthammer and others have noted, civility — like beauty — is in the eye of the beholder.
What people too often seem to forget is that respecting and disrespecting a president — be it Clinton or Bush or Obama or Trump — is not disrespecting America or the office of the president.
We can dislike a political leader, even the president, and still love the country. We can sharply criticize the president — any president — and his or her actions, and still be patriotic, flag-waving, U.S.A-proud Americans.
That is civility. Calling critics human scum? Not so much.