On Being Hated In a Nation of Assholes

by: David Sirota

Thu Sep 03, 2009 at 09:15

Had the distinct displeasure of seeing your drivel printed in my local paper recently. Although I recognize that all liberals are drooling buffoons, I must say you are one of the more bone-stupid liberals I've ever run across. How is it, I often wonder, that all liberals are so incredibly stupid? Is it in your DNA? Or do you just absorb all this stupidity naturally, while attending government run indoctrination centers (public schools).

In any case, I hope that with newspapers going broke all over, in record time, that you soon find yourself living in a cardboard box under the nearest overpass.


That is one of the scores of typical hate letters I receive after one of my newspaper columns is published. In a normal week, I get about 40 such letters (plus a good deal of positive ones), and on top of that, the comments section of my columns - where posted online - are filled with stuff that's very similar. And, of course, there are the hateful - and very personal - comments left by people on some of my blog posts (although, not much here).*

All of it is, inevitably, anonymous - people will say stuff in letters and as anonymous commenters that they never would say in person, much less on a telephone. Some of it is from ideological opponents who hate progressives in general, other batches are from the self-loathers - those who say they are progressives, but angrily lash out at any progressives who are higher profile or more active than them because that somehow makes them feel small. And believe me - I have all kinds, many of them stalker-style in their volume/intensity of email/comments. It's kinda crazy, actually.

I'm a sensitive guy, so all the vitriol does not easily roll off my back - it has a kind of cumulative effect, which gets to be kind of depressing (which I'm sure makes the haters happy). You end up finding yourself hating right back - and then, I fear, after years of absorbing it all, you wake up one day and look at yourself in the mirror and see some awful person like Joe Klein staring back at you.

I go back and forth on how to avoid this future - and how to preserve some semblance of humanity in myself. Some days, I try to respond to the anger, but that only makes things worse, as the hate gets more intense.  Other days, I think hard about how to extricate myself from blogging, writing and the media world in general and find a new career. Most days, though, it's just in the middle - I absorb it as an occupational hazard, remembering that you tend to hear more from (and, sadly, listen more to) your opponents than your friends/allies.

I write this not to complain, nor to Broder-ish case for "comity" and "bipartisanship," but to simply point out that I think there is some truth to the idea that the political discourse in this country has gotten toxically coarse to the point where we're not having any kind of discussion about substance at all.  

David Sirota :: On Being Hated In a Nation of Assholes
Most often, the haters have succeeded in turning political discourse into a war of attrition against their personal demons -a  war won by those who can go nuclear the fastest.

That's clearly been the story of the summer on health care - and it continues to be the story on most major issues. I mean, conservatives are quite literally calling the president's plan to promote the value of education to the nation's schoolchildren a secret socialist plot. All of it has convinced me we are living through one of the darkest periods in the last 50 years - one in which intense hatred has now become an accepted - even celebrated - part of our democracy.

For me personally, if I had to predict, I'd guess that this escalation will ultimately get me out of the writing/blogging/activism game at some point in the future. Ultimately, enough gray hair, chest pain, and hurt feelings just gets tiresome - and dangerous to one's health. But my personal decisions are not really important to anyone other than me and my family. What's significant in the broader sense, I think, is the overall trend and what it means for our country.

I'll put it bluntly: We are becoming a nation of haters - a nation, really, of assholes, or at least dominated by assholes. And sure, maybe we've always been that way - but what's different is that it's become almost impossible to pretend otherwise. There's no more delusions, no more fantasies. Despising one another and ignoring the substance of issues has become the defining mark of Americanness in the 21st century - and that's a tragedy.

* Just to be clear, when I refer to "hate," I'm not referring to disagreements on principle/substance. We have a lot of those here at OpenLeft - and those are healthy and constructive and important. When I refer to "hate," I'm referring to the kind of impulses epitomized in that one rather typical piece of hate mail. Hate is easy to spot - it's like obscenity: you know it when you see it.

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David (4.00 / 7)
I know it must be rough dealing with this shit, even from anonymous knuckle-dragging lunatics. So you should know all of us who don't have your forum (which is still admitedly limited compared to many on the right) appreciate you speaking up for us and dealing with the ignorant hate that gets flung your way.

I really believe this though: in an unjust world, if you aren't hated, despised, and condemned, you probably are not fighting for justice.  

Pot calling the kettle black (4.00 / 1)
David, I strongly agree with your column complaining of anonymous hate mail that ignores the substance of issues.  But when the first response on OpenLeft, by one of our columnists "the new", gets high ratings (4.00), is itself anonymous, and talks about "shit ... from ... knuckle-dragging lunatics", maybe the problem is on both sides of the political aisle.

[ Parent ]
Umm (0.00 / 0)
First, thanks for promoting me to "columnist."  Didn't know you had that authority.  Second, there is a difference between sending hate email to someone's personal email address, sticking it in their face, versus ripping on someone on your own partisan blog. I did not, and would not send a hateful reply to that "knuckle-dragging lunatic."  I merely posted about it here in defense of David.  Third, that "knuckle-dragging lunatic" started it. Fourth - and this is by far the biggest difference - David is RIGHT, and Mr. "knuckle-dragging lunatic" is wrong.  

[ Parent ]
From Girard to Jung to Derrida . . . (0.00 / 0)
You're right--it's classic othering, a struggle with one's unsuppressed "personal demon" that's going to happen whether you're around or not, David.  I suppose you keep writing and leave that person to whatever pretext he finds to fight with himself.      

"the political discourse in this country has gotten toxically coarse" Indeed! (4.00 / 4)
Yup, totally agree. And maybe this is more obvious for the observers from the outside. What's especially disturbing is that the media tolerates even the most outrageous hate rants, and imho not because of a misguided understanding of the first ammendment (the constituion actually doesn't say anybody has the right to have his insults published or shown on TV), but because of the controversy increasing readers' and viewers interest. There's simply no ethics involved when it comes to enhancing the Nielsen ratings or the clickrates. And, of course, if the media has no problems spreading hate speech, people get accustomed to that and start to think such rants are socially acceptable.

Good example recently, the different approach of the WaPo and the NYT to comments about the late Ted Kennedy. The NYT, as usual, applied their high level of moderation to every single posting, with the result that controversial issues like Chappaquiddick were mentioned and discussed, but no sliming like "Murdering Partisan Sot" made it into the online publication. The Post, on the other hand, allowed almost all comments, including the example above. Some other rants found in the obituary thread:

"he's still a rotten, rotten, person and can rot in hell."
"The man was garbage and came from a family of trash"
"God is running his own 'Cash For Clunkers' I see. ... Pissah!!"
"you're drunken deadbeat American hating murdering brother is coming over to Arlington, what a disgrace!"

Only the harvest from 4 pages out of 51 in this thread. And the large page count also shows that tolerating hat speech pays off: While the NYT had about 300 comments last time I looked, there were over 1000 at WaPo. I guess the clickrates showed a similar proportion. Well, a nice example set by the Post, but as long as there's profit to be made from this lowering of the discourse, what can be done against it? I'm afraid this will spread even further, and will result in public conservations becoming much more harsh and often hateful, too. When being abusive and insulting has no negative consequences, this has to be expected.

Strange column from a self-styled populist (4.00 / 3)
A nation of assholes?

Not from where I sit.

A nation owned by corporations that are screwing people. A nation waging endless, un-winnable wars. Sure, there's a vocal white minority nervous about the rise of Latinos and the rise of a certain black pol, etc. but most people are rightfully fearful about their future, a future that will be shaped by forces out of sight and out of control.  

Being a little obtuse there Mr. Mizner (0.00 / 0)
There are more than one nation in this country, the Cherokee being a good example. The nation of assholes is a perfect description for the "vocal white minority" you single out, though its not exactly as broad and inclusive as Sirota's.

Did you you really think that David was referring to the country?


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Yeah, cause I can read. (0.00 / 0)
We are becoming a nation of haters - a nation, really, of assholes, or at least dominated by assholes. And sure, maybe we've always been that way - but what's different is that it's become almost impossible to pretend otherwise. There's no more delusions, no more fantasies. Despising one another and ignoring the substance of issues has become the defining mark of Americanness in the 21st century - and that's a tragedy.

[ Parent ]
I stand corrected. (0.00 / 0)
He does think that asshole-ness is spreading into all discourse, no matter what political stripe. Like a poison. I still read it as the nation of assholes that live in the US.  


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
so... (0.00 / 0)
a "populist" can't say that it's a "nation of assholes"? Whether I'm a "populist" or not (and I do consider myself an economic populist), I agree that it's a nation of assholes.

Actually, I think the country is best be described by a Third Eye Blind lyric - "this corporate sell out hillbilly nation". But, that's just me, no matter what label my political views may have.

I vote Democratic, I think Independent

[ Parent ]
we love you man... (4.00 / 4)
Keep speaking truth to power.  Ignorance responds with more ignorance not thoughtful, logical debate.  Progressive voices are needed now more than ever, and there are millions that do not have the platform that you have to speak the truth.  Keep up the good fight.  

Yes, I have to agree. We love ya man. (4.00 / 3)
It might seem a little un-American, but we love ya.

Part of what might be healing for the toxicity you get is the very much intended support we send you every time we read your articles. There are more and more people asking to have to your columns included in their paper so they can a dose of sanity in their morning perusal of the tripe and bad news. Everyone of those people is grateful for your work.

They would not be attacking you if you weren't doing damage to the "unassailable hegemony" of the world view they impose everyday.

Find frequent ways to get the approval and appreciation and very real affection we feel. You are on the front lines of a battle to end hate. Front line soldiers deserve and get frequent rotation back to civilization. You deserve it too.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
David (4.00 / 3)
I think Barney Frank has put this in context the best when he said to that insane woman

"Trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table."

You work with who you can and work around those you can't work with.  

Every revolution was first a thought in one man's or woman's mind.....Emerson

i think in this case its a Nail gun, not a table (4.00 / 1)

[ Parent ]
Sometimes, for personal health (4.00 / 2)
you just have to step back and take a vacation from it. Also, have someone else go through the e-mails/mail and weed out the crazy from those that are substantive. No reason why you should force yourself to read that c**p.

I don't always agree with you positions, but enjoy reading your analysis. Always thought-provoking and intelligently argued.

Kos posts some of his hate mail on a regular basis (0.00 / 0)
I suggest that you read some of your hate mail on your radio show, on a regular basis. Just please don't extrapolate from the authors onto every last conservative. I don't think you'd be so foolish, but you should make clear to your audience that you are not doing that. Indeed, you should also ask conservatives to call in (if you do call-ins on your show), and tell the world if they agree with the malicious sentiments you have just read. In fact, I dare you to do that - I think you'll be both pleased and dismayed by what you will hear, but moreso the former.

435 Dem Primaries 2012
Coffee Party Usa

It seems that the lack of coherency from the Right (0.00 / 0)
has left the only resistance to Left ideas in the crazy haters hands (mouths and guns!).
I'm wondering what will reverse this trend, will it take Glenn having the Big One (h/t Mr. Sanford) on national TV?
Or maybe a really terrible tragedy of life and limb as the crazies drive themselves to new heights of furor?

Hate works for the Right (4.00 / 9)
Swiftboating Kerry worked. Palin's comments about "death panels" quickly drove all rational discussion about healthcare reform out of the room. Hate-talk radio from Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, etc. ensures that the dominant theme each day will be some insanity or inanity and that any kind of rational discourse will be overwhelmed.

The Right has found a way to ensure that the "debate" in this country will be dominated by insane Rightists and corporate shills so that progressive perspectives never get heard and so most people are so disgusted with "politics" that they tune out completely. It has worked quite well for the Right, but it is destroying our country (and the world).

I don't know what the answer is. With luck, a lot of people will eventually find this "discourse" a complete waste of time and they will instead turn to OpenLeft and other sources of reasonable discourse. Or maybe we can find a way to mount a successful boycott of Fox News advertisers, etc.

David, I encourage you to do your best to tune out the lunacy and attacks. Please stick to what you do so well: cogent analysis and criticism.

Well said. (0.00 / 0)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
well said (4.00 / 1)
This is why I'm not looking forward to the inevitable development of life-extending drugs.  We need generations to die off in order to bury biases and make social progress - see slavery, segregation, women's suffrage, interracial and gay marriage, etc.  God help us if we're still battling ludicrous birther arguments in 2109.

[ Parent ]
Fox News is being boycotted by anyone who would listen to us already (0.00 / 0)
Fox News viewership is a better predictor of a Republican vote than having Republican party affiliation.  

But the right and the left are increasingly not even talking about the same things anymore.  It's two entirely different languages of policy.  Rather than reaching out to right wing pols, I wonder if it might be more reasonable to try and start to translate left wing policy ideas into more rightist sort of value structures--'conservation' rather than 'environmentalism' for example.

[ Parent ]
Obama shouldn't pay attention to the 30% of the country who will always hate him (4.00 / 4)
and neither should you.

You have to learn to tell the difference between someone who is open to intelligent debate, and people who are just trolling for a reaction. Ignore the trolls. And even then, it's not worth debating every intelligent person who disagrees with you.

You need to ignore a lot more people and just say "they're so blatantly ignorant that there's no way to even talk to them". Don't respond at all. Just delete it and move on.

Keep doing your thing. We need you.

I for one miss you. (0.00 / 0)
It would be a tough come back because you can't hide like I can.

But fuck them if they can't take a joke and you'll get my recs and protection (such as it is) in any of my diaries.

In the mean time I look for you here and appreciate your work.

don't take these assholes seriously (4.00 / 1)
I would recommend setting up some sort of filter, maybe you could even get an intern to screen your public e-mail so that you don't waste time and energy on spam.  

Another idea is to get the Gregory Brothers to auto-tune them for you.

You are caught in a pressure point (4.00 / 1)
One of your most prominent intellectual strengths: your objectivity, which is anchored to your allegiance to the truth; is also one of the biggest intellectual weaknesses in this country.  Ignorance has reached epidemic levels in a country that is full of fucking selfish, immature, non-introspective, myopic idiots.  The overall maturity level of this country is that of a 14 year old.  And that isn't confined to the right.  

Hang in there, you help keep the sane sane.


Take Care of Yourself (4.00 / 1)
You definitely need a way to isolate yourself from this hate, and not turn angry or hateful yourself.  I know, I've been there.

I don't know what if any spirtual practices you follow, but consider developing a meditation practice - it will do wonders for you in many ways.

hate (0.00 / 0)
You describe the curreny rape-public-can/conservative method to a T. Hate, volume, lies, misdirection, anything to avoid discussion of facts and issues. Because of cource, the facts and therefor the direction the legislation must take to remedy the current problems (mostly caused by 30+ years of right wing domination) are liberal leaning. In the opinion of the extreem fringes of the political spectrum, there can be no recognizing ligitimicy in the opposition on any subject. And the corporate news plus hate radio, backed by unlimited money, have pushed more and more of the conservatives further and further to the right (with a simular but more subtle effect on the general populas). Each step is bolder and bolder, leading to; open fascism? This could not be happening unless supported by big money and the corporations, who benifit from the ignorance the current media feed back loop creates. As we search for a way out of this dead end for humanity, perhaps we should look closer at Nancy Brodier's system/idea.

Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob..... FDR

You Matter (0.00 / 0)
You might want to read Stephen King's "On Writing".  He talks about the mail that he gets.  Might be some inspiration there.

Don't let these guys get to you.  You are an important voice.  Maybe the voice today for left-leaning populism.  I can't think of anybody who could take your place today.  

And you make a difference.  I know somebody who is populist and probably doesn't realise that's what he is.  He watches Lou Dobbs and reads you and likes when you are on TV.  If you weren't there, he'd only watch Dobbs.  He could go left or right.  Without you, he's only being pulled in one direction.

Keep a sense of humor (4.00 / 1)
The dark age is just beginning.

You've done yeoman's work on behalf of, well, me at least. I respect you for it; admire you for it. Especially considering how dark and dangerous the forces of mindlessness have become. They hurt themselves more than you; pity them.

I read twenty, thirty pieces a day by you and your colleagues writing in rational, positive terms on the issues that concern all of us. I rarely take the time to say thanks or good job (comments like that seem to waste space but maybe I'm wrong). But please remember that there's me and others like me, not a "subscriber" to your posts, but I see them here and have caught you on TV news shows occasionally and it helps me get through the hate you talk about (we all feel it, I think).

So, again, thanks. Great work. Keep it up. If you quit, I'll miss you.

the hate means what you do is working (0.00 / 0)
keep it up

don't take those assholes seriously

Dark Ages (0.00 / 0)
Mr. Sirota, I've always very much enjoyed your writing,
so from a purely selfish point of view I hope you keep

Personally I would have a very hard time dealing
with even a small portion of the vitriol and hate
spued your way. So I can definitely understand you
wanting to take a break. There is no point in
wrecking your health and emotional balance. Your first
responsibility is to yourself and your family.

I do think that things will get a lot worse, and
that you are absolutely right that America has
become a nation of Asshats.

Why? People were pretty horrible during the Dark Ages,
and I think we are returning to that same mentality
(although luckily we do have  ways to go). As TV
(especially violent TV) has replaced books as our
main source of culture, this is the inevitable

History is a crushing tide of mass movement. No
one person (even a president) can stem that tide.
So do what you can, but don't feel that the weight
of the world is upon your shoulders.


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