Is our mean streak getting wider?

Bruce Springsteen on Amnesty International’s 1988 Human Rights Now! Tour.

Bruce Springsteen on Amnesty International’s 1988 Human Rights Now! Tour.

Is it me or have people become less civil, nastier even?

I think of the lines from Bruce Springsteen’s song “Nebraska,” inspired by the mass murderer Charles Starkweather:

“They wanted to know why I did what I did.

“Well, sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.”

But is there? As far as institutions and laws are concerned, the world has gotten more just and compassionate. Today, most of us would agree that slavery is unjust, for instance. That wasn’t true 150 years ago.

But these past two weeks I have either experienced or heard about three instances of ego-besotted, bizarro, apoplectic rudeness. It would, of course, be easy to blame the Hater-in-Chief. What a surprise that he’s not going to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. He can dish it out but he can’t take it. And boy, can he dish it out. There isn’t a day that goes by that President Donald J. Trump doesn’t have something personally unkind to say about someone who opposes him in some way. He cannot just agree to disagree. The result of this is twofold: It gives others a license to be mean. But it also rattles those who generally don’t indulge in their baser instincts. As Meryl Streep said, disrespect breeds disrespect, even in those who know better.

But the fault isn’t Trump’s alone. The internet culture’s anonymity also offers a license to “tell it like it is” to every poster, no matter how scurrilous and corrosive the post. It’s no wonder that there’s a free-for-all where manners and truth – the two go hand-in-hand – are concerned.

The antidote to this is diligence: We have to make a concerted effort to be kind, even though kindness is often mistaken for weakness. It’s not just good business, good politics, good morality. It will make you feel better about yourself.