What Happened to Disagreeing Respectfully in America?

Within hours of learning about the mass shootings in Kalamazoo, I tweeted the following: America will never be great until we value human life more than gun ownership. To be clear, I tweet under my own name, with a photo of myself. My tweets over the past five or six years tend to lean liberal, but also include retweets that amuse me or even bragging about my daughter. I have tweeted about gun sense often in the past.

Today being a Sunday, the twitter trolls who seethe with anger and vitriol quickly found me. Despite the rather innocuous tweet of mine, the cleverly named "Dindu Nuffin" responded by calling me a "cowering" you can fill in the blanks here. Considering I use my own name and photo and Dindu hides behind a fake name and photo, the word "cowering" is a bit untoward. But his tweet to me was tame by comparison. Several tweeters -- including one who uses a photo of a KKK rally as his profile picture -- called me out as a "Jewess" and one asked point blank if I were Jewish. Yet another named "quit crying" accused me of trying to take away his guns.

So the question arises: What happened to disagreeing with others in a civil manner? When did it become acceptable to think of those who oppose our views as our enemies? When did name-calling become a standard response to anything we don't like? I know, and sometimes understand, why gun owners oppose restrictions on guns. It doesn't make them terrible people. But isn't it possible for us to try to talk about it?

Is it twitter that started this trend? Perhaps by cloaking themselves in fake names and fake photos, those who are filled with venom can express their hateful thoughts without fear of repercussions. And they can do it quickly and with the sort of black and white thinking that embodies prejudice and hate. They can sit in their dens and mock and threaten others while their children play at their feet.

Or is it the current crop of politicians who label each other "losers" and "liars" who embolden people like Dindu? If it's okay for one of the nation's richest men to reduce everything to insults, perhaps it's okay for everyone. Why should we actually listen to one another or even question our own values when there are so many ways to avoid it?

As the years pass, I am less and less certain that Americans are capable of finding ways to live harmoniously and "just get along." I've seen it work in other nations, where care is given to conversations and where listening to one another is deeply embedded in the culture. But here in the U.S. it seems to be a fading virtue. But what is lost is a sense of community, of trust in one another, and -- for some of us -- a desire for a united nation.

I imagine all of those who gave their lives so we could live in peace twisting uncomfortably in their graves. The Founding Fathers are surely horrified that we are straying so far from the country they conceived. And all the patriots and debaters and writers who came before us are surely confused by the rancor that hovers over our land. We are not guaranteed happiness in this country, but we should be given every chance at safe passage. Until we talk to each other and find common ground, safety is at best an illusion.