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KEVIN LEININGER: We all have vile thoughts, but when did it become ‘sophisticated’ to express them in public?

Has former quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other protesting NFL players been denied their right to free speech? What about Roseanne Barr? Does the answer depend on your politics? (AP photo)
Kevin Leininger

Conservatives should shed no tears for Roseanne Barr, whose Trump-friendly and highly rated TV show was canceled this week after she published a tweet about former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett many considered racist. If ABC executives believed Barr’s continued presence would harm the network, they had every right to fire her.

You know: the same right National Football League owners have to control on-field political protests.

What’s that, you say? The First Amendment allows football players to kneel during the national anthem even when, unlike Barr, they are on ‘company time’? Welcome to 21st century America, where rights, bigotry and even common decency are routinely interpreted through — and thereby distorted by — a partisan prism.

Not long after an ABC executive apologized for Barr’s rant, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended a tweet from President Trump in which he pointed out no such apology had been issued “for Jamele Hill calling the president and anyone associated with him a white supremacist; to Christians around the world for Joy Behar (of “The View”) calling Christianity a mental illness? Where was the apology Kathy Griffin going on a profane rant against the president on The View after a photo showed her holding President Trump’s decapitated head?”

“B—-, don’t come for me,” a clearly unrepentant Griffin tweeted in reply, while former Obama administration official and CNN contributor Van Jones laid the sorry episode at Trump’s feet for having caused a “moral collapse inside of our political system.”

Civil public discourse was on the wane long before Trump took office, of course, but there’s no doubt Trump has exacerbated that unfortunate trend, thereby undermining his own claim to unfair treatment despite the obvious double standard Huckabee Sanders noted.

In the same week Barr was banned from ABC airwaves, Samantha Bee of the TBS late-night show “Full Frontal” was calling White House Senior Adviser Ivanka Trump a “Feckless c—.” Bee later apologized but was not fired, and was widely defended by people who might otherwise condemn such comments as sexist.

“Brilliant,” filmmaker Michael Moore said.

“It’s weird Trump calls nations s——-s and people animals and rapists and sons of b—— and one strong word — which is right on target — is found offensive,” Hollywood director Judd Apatow agreed.

With most of the entertainment industry and media leaning decidedly to the left, such reactions are neither surprising nor uncommon. But the real issue to be understood and confronted is not hypocrisy but what used to be called common courtesy.

Less than 20 years ago, after Barr delivered a shrieking rendition of the Star Spangled Banner banner prior to a baseball game in San Diego then grabbed her crotch and spit before being booed off the field, it was conservatives who were angry and liberals such as Madonna who invoked the First Amendment. Eight years ago, in yet another irony, Barr insisted Mormon teachings had driven a gay teen to suicide and rejected criticism by insisting “I’m kicking bigot a– and taking names,” she boasted.

Today, she is being labeled a bigot despite her apology and insistence that medication, not hate, was to blame.

As America struggles with a host of profoundly difficult and divisive issues, disagreement is inevitable and even healthy. But personal attacks, insinuation of motives and disparagement of entire groups, countries or religions only succeeds in driving an already divided nation even farther apart. Why worry about the feelings of people you believe are unworthy of respect? Why bother talking to someone who calls you and others like you “deplorables”?

All of us, from presidents to mayors to reporters, have said and done things in private we would not want to become public. Occasionally, even those unguarded comments find their way into the public domain, causing various degrees of embarrassment. What’s striking today’s is that so many people are saying so many vile things out in the open, as if they’re somehow proud of using words that in earlier times would have called into question the intelligence and character of those uttering them. But then, that was before shame became a four-letter word.

As writer paid for his opinions, I long ago learned learned not to take it personally when people would rather attack me than challenge my argument. But today, with the Internet having convinced almost everybody of the brilliance of their own thoughts, the resulting bickering and outright rage has all but drowned out the quiet voice of charity and reason. Our country needs, and deserves, better.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.