When did we arrive at the point in our national discourse where it is no longer sufficient to disagree with someone who holds a contrary opinion but necessary to destroy him utterly?
Take the case of Phil Robertson, the head of a rural Louisiana clan that went from rags to riches on the strength of their business manufacturing duck calls. The lives of the Robertsons are documented in the hit reality show “Duck Dynasty,” produced by the A&E cable network.
The show’s good-natured, generational humor has made it immensely popular. The latest season premiere was seen by 11.8 million viewers, making it the most watched nonfiction cable telecast in history.
Part of the program’s appeal comes from the family’s heartland values. Each show ends with the clan gathered around the dinner table in prayer.
Few shows illustrate the divide between the nation’s coastal elites and the residents of “fly-over country” so clearly. And those differences were laid bare in a recent interview with GQ magazine in which Robertson was asked his views on homosexuality.
Robertson is a self-professed Christian who turned to religion after a wild youth. His answer was steeped in his fundamentalist faith.
Robertson wondered why a man would prefer a sexual partnership with another man over one with a woman.
“She’s got more to offer,” he told the magazine. “I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
Robertson added that sinful behavior is becoming the norm and that society needs to return to basic values.
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” Robertson told GQ. “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers -- they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Robertson said he won’t judge people for their behavior, leaving that task to God.
The whole exchange smells like a set-up. Why would anyone care what a duck call maker thinks about homosexuality? And sure enough, the forces of outrage pounced.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group GLAAD denounced Robertson’s comments as “vile” and called for the network and its sponsors to “re-examine their ties” with the family.
A&E responded by suspending Robertson from the “Duck Dynasty” programs. The family says it cannot imagine the show going forward without its patriarch.
Why isn’t it possible to disagree, as we do, with Robertson’s harsh assessment of homosexuality while defending his right to hold such opinions?
Not all on the left are clamoring for Robertson’s destruction.
Noted art and social critic Camille Paglia, who describes herself as having been “openly gay before the Stonewall rebellion, when it cost you something to be so,” railed against the intolerance of gay advocates as “utterly fascist, utterly Stalinist.”
“I think that this intolerance by gay activists toward the full spectrum of human beliefs is a sign of immaturity, juvenility,” Paglia said in an interview on the Laura Ingraham radio show. “This is not the mark of a true intellectual life. This is why there is no cultural life now in the U.S.”
In a truly diverse, democratic society, there is room for all points of view -- even ones with which we disagree.