Back in the 1980s, as editor of the Hays Daily News, I sometimes edited out profanities and other objectionable language from stories and other copy.

Once, in a column from another Kansas writer, I took out the word “damn,” and a colleague told me I was being overly cautious and a prude.

Considering how mild the word seems now, I likely qualified as a prude. But when you spend your adult life in a business that depends on language and language skills, you spend more time than most people thinking about right words, wrong words and how to best describe an event, an issue or a person.

And when you write for editorial pages, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to make what you have to say more powerful.

A lot of people think profane and obscene language is the way to achieve that goal, a way to make people understand you are really angry, really afraid or shocked.

But if you work in newspapers, you know the use of objectionable language will also offend and anger some of your audience.

My rule, as a writer and an editor, was to include objectionable language if it was needed to convey to readers the meaning of an event.

And on rare occasions, it is needed to convey the level of emotion someone expressed. Such instances are now almost extinct because, face it, the pervasiveness of offensive language has robbed it of power.

Exhibit one is the obviously fake outrage expressed by the White House because comedian Samantha Bee called Ivanka Trump a female body part (there’s that prude side of me again).

Remember, President Donald Trump welcomed to the White House Ted Nugent and Kid Rock, two celebrities who make Bee sound like a nun. And Trump has used obscenities and slurs to describe women, reporters, countries he doesn’t like and politicians with whom he disagrees.

The hullabaloo manufactured by Trump was just an excuse to take shots at his foes.

True, he was merely following the lead of those who feigned shock at the crass racism expressed a few days earlier by Roseanne Barr.

Barr used Twitter to rant about the racial background of a former Obama administration official.

When people were offended, she apologized. She called the racist tweet a bad joke. She blamed her medication. She swore off Twitter.

It took her almost a day to shake off the apologetic tone, get back on Twitter and claim she was being victimized.

Both the Barr and the Bee incidents turned into brawls between conservatives and liberals. Each side claimed the other was worse. Both accused the other of hypocrisy and hate.

The real battle should not be between liberals and conservatives. It should be between the civil and the uncivil.

Americans who care whether our societal norms include minimal respect and a sense of decency should reject Bee and Barr.

Respect is simply not part of their act. Like many in the entertainment industry, they conflate humor with humiliation, funny with foul-mouthed.

No one who believes in free speech should deny them that right. Barr has her right to racism, Bee to her vile anger.

And because it’s a free country, the rest of us have a right to reject their vulgar sense of humor. We can turn off TV. Ignore them in other media.

The problem, however, is greater than two comedians. Disrespect, vulgarity and hatred taint our politics, our entertainment, our news and even our families.

We currently tolerate a level of disrespect and coarseness that was routinely rejected a few years ago.

Those who blame Trump for the lack of civility have it wrong. He is the product of our low standards, not the cause.

Just as we should reject comedians who demean and denigrate, we should reject the politics of disrespect. Instead, we condone uncivil behavior in the White House. There’s no other way to describe Trump’s lies, coarse insults and berating tweets.

As long as such conduct is deemed acceptable — and defended because, well, his foes are just as bad — the cultural muck we’re slogging through will get deeper and uglier.

 

A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.