#MeToo and the death of American manners

Yet I can’t help noticing the degradation of everyday politeness in my immediate circle of political, media, and social acquaintances. It’s partly the tweeted insults, many of them unprintable, that I received in my recent confrontation with #MeToo supporters over an essay we published in Harper’s Magazine by a formerly prominent radio journalist, a ‘male aggressor’ of the type they want permanently banished. Hate tweets on a mass scale are something new in the world, and that they come from people who allegedly align with the oppressed — sometimes women, sometimes minorities, sometimes the handicapped or otherwise disadvantaged — is sadly ironic. I’ve been subjected to hate mail from right-wingers — the worst was for my appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s O’Reilly Factor on Fox News just after 9/11. But letters, no matter how enraged, threat- ening, or incoherent, don’t match the ferocity of a Twitter storm. And even if they hate you, the letter writers usually feel obliged to make something resembling an argument, not just to express an angry sentiment.

The #MeTooer of the moment is Rebecca Traister, a writer who relishes the broadside insult. In a recent New York Times interview, she was quoted on the beneficial effects of white-hot anger: ‘In early 2017,’ outraged by the defeat of Hillary Clinton, ‘I was walking with my husband, and I felt like my brain was going to boil. I was telling him how hard it was for me to think because I was so angry. He said to me, “Well, maybe that’s your book: anger.” I was like: “Of course, that’s my book.”’ The resulting volume is titled Good and Mad.