"Good morning, Kalena," I said.
"Good morning," said our receptionist. "You have an awful voicemail. Do you want me to send it to your phone?"
"Yeah, I guess."
It was an awful message, best summarized as, "F**king Bruce VanWyngarden needs to be in jail for writing what he said about Donald Trump. F**king Hillary should be in an orange jumpsuit and f**king Barack Obama has ruined this country. F**k you all. I hate your f**king paper."
He seemed displeased.
As I do with all hateful/threatening voicemails, I did a reverse lookup on the number, which was from a real estate office in East Memphis. This angry fellow had called from his place of business, one that I won't be recommending to anyone looking for housing.
How did we get to this place, anyway? When did politics rise from the "agree to disagree" Republican and Democratic debates among friends that I recall from not so long ago to anonymous (not so much, actually) "F**k you" voicemails and vicious arguments on social media and the resultant "defriending" and unfollowing"?
Trump loathing is rampant. I've heard several people say recently that if someone is voting for Trump, they can no longer be friends with them. And the "Hillary needs to be in an orange jumpsuit" crowd has taken angry politics to even worse extremes.
The political discourse has been coarsening for a couple of decades now, led initially by the likes of Rush Limbaugh in the 1990s, who was among the first to discover the big money to be made by continually stoking political anger via character assassination, sexism, and racism.
The rise of Rush was followed by the formation of the Roger Ailes-driven Fox News machine, which turned conservative dogma into "news" and spawned a network of Rush wannabes such as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, accessorized by an ever-changing legion of news-blondes in miniskirts. MSNBC has attempted to mount a progressive/liberal counter-weight, but Fox still owns the cable airwaves, at least, for now. (It remains to be seen how the network will fare now that pervy Roger has moved over to the Trump campaign and the Murdoch kids are running things.)
But back to the state of our political discourse. I've tried recently — twice, actually — to have civil conversations with people who are voting for Trump. Both acquaintances were Christians and Republican conservatives. I went through the usual arguments: Trump is anything but Christian. He's not even conservative. His foundation is a sham. He's a crooked businessman with a long history of lawsuits and bankruptcies. He won't release his taxes or medical records. He's racist, and he lies like most of us breathe. I concluded by pointing out that many prominent Republicans and conservatives have stated he would be a danger to the republic and that he is mentally unfit for the office.
What I heard back was, basically: Hillary is a crook. Washington needs to be shaken up, and Trump will shake things up. And he can be controlled by Congress if he gets out of line.
Neither of these folks made what I would call a legitimate case for their candidate. We finally, literally, agreed to disagree. But, of course, I think they're both fools, and they probably think the same of me.
I also think there's a disconnect between those of us who look at media all day due to the availability of the internet at our places of work and those who get their politics through TV and other traditional newsmedia.
For instance, almost every morning I read tweets from Donald Trump, the unfiltered words of the man who would be leader of the free world. Like: "Wacky Maureen Dowd, who hardly knows me, makes up things that I never said for her boring interviews and column. A neurotic dope!" Seriously, who could read this petty, infantile blather and think, "that guy would be a great president"?
They're out there, though, and no doubt one of them will call and let me know.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."
What's the matter with Missouri? How did my home state — and my alma mater, the University of Missouri — seemingly become this year's Mississippi, the preeminent battleground for the civil rights movement in this country? ...