For the Love of Umbrage

For the Love of Umbrage

By Eugene S. Robinson

Defeated gubernatorial candidate Richard Nixon speaks at a press conference on November 7, 1962, which he claims will be his last. He complained of his mistreatment by the press, and claimed "they would not have Nixon to kick around any more." Stock Photo ID:


If you don’t care we’re going to want to know EXACTLY WHY you feel completely JUSTIFIED in disregarding our well-thought out premise, while we demand an apology and hold our breath until we get one.

By Eugene S. Robinson

We’re not sure exactly when and where the shift happened, when it was that America moved from the Land of the Rugged Individual to the Land of the Permanently Aggrieved, but we suspect it was November 7th, 1962.

For those whose cultural memory extends only as far back as the beginning of the Internet, that was when future shame-monger Richard M. Nixon gave his “last” press conference after losing the governor’s race to current California Governor Jerry Brown’s father, then incumbent Pat Brown. With a full head of steam and the Nixonian dark circles in place under his eyes, Nixon brought to bear a barely concealed panoply of emotions that ran the gamut from angry and aggrieved to bitter and wounded, as he uttered the now famous line: ”You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”

It signaled the beginning of an addiction to being taken so very, very seriously. Accompanied, of course, by what happens when we’re not taken seriously…

Of course this was not true: We’d had Nixon to kick around since his 1952 Checkers Speech, and we’d have him to kick around until his August 8, 1974 resignation speech following the Watergate imbroglio. In its wounded dignity, Nixon’s narcissistic speech clarified a language, attitude and bearing that oscillated at a frequency not that far afield from60s counterculture values, which insisted on the expression of each and every sentiment, no matter how insignificant. It signaled the beginning of an addiction to being taken so very, very seriously. Accompanied, of course, by what happens when we’re not taken seriously: indignation, outrage and umbrage.

Which is where we are now, in the age of the Internet when our increasing sense of self-importance elevates every Facebook post to something significant, and spreads it fast and furiously. As a result, our personal podiums and press conferences have become fraught and overwrought.

Ronan Farrow making a face

Source Corbis

And while Nixon could always just resign, the rest of us are stuck in a non-productive cycle of stumble—statement—disagreement—outrage—repeat. So from the “brouhaha” over Secretary of State John Kerry being snarked at by an Israeli politician, to the “flap” over Ronan Farrow’s well-timed mid-Golden Globe tweet reminding the world about alleged child molester and film director Woody Allen, and straight on through our sometimes true, sometimes not Facebook newsfeed outrages (the Knockout Game? Not. Duck Dynasty? Yes. The Chris Christie Bridgegate? Yet to be decided.). The schoolyard rush to the jump in on the latest and nearest scuffle begs for one thing and one thing only.

An adult.

To cut through all of the high dudgeon and upset over slights real or imagined. To stand up and own the wrongs, back the rights and say, as sometimes is important, “we appreciate your sensitivities and your viewpoint but to paraphrase Einstein here, ‘the universe doesn’t care that much about you.’ So let’s get back to work.”

Sure criminal malfeasance should be punished, but it’d be nice to mark a new kind of socio-political discourse that does away with appeals to these baser emotions. Instead we could acknowledge that, while humans do all kinds of things that the rest of us may not like, our dislike of an action or a word does not require a legislative fiat against someone else’s stupidity.

Exercise your right to vote, choose to consume potentially offensive books, movies, or TV shows or not. But the endless sound of whine needs to stop so that the grownups can get some real work done.