Mark Bauerlein states the obvious in his excellent essay here entitled "You Can Say That". His thesis is that the foolish Supreme Court ruling in 1971 of Cohen v. California (which turned on whether a man who entered a Los Angeles courthouse wearing a jacket marked “F—- the Draft” could be arrested for “offensive conduct”) laid the foundation for incivility. The Court said “No,” reversing a lower court ruling.
And here we are, forty-six years after Cohen, with waves of nasty tweets out of Hollywood, speakers at the Lincoln Memorial shouting curse words to righteous crowds, and the most popular songs on college campuses spewing language that would make Carlin shudder. Even liberals agree that the public sphere looks anything but more capacious and expressive and pluralistic. They reject, reflexively, any speech restrictions based on aesthetic norms, but they too regret the coarseness and incivility. The head of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Obama organized a national “Civility Tour” to stem the epidemic of American nastiness.
The Court should have known it would happen.
..... You and I may have no problem in calling such messages crude and inappropriate and expelling them from the room, but not the justices. They erased the line between principled objection and puerile insult. A four-letter word now rises to the level of meaningful, respectable expression.
..... The saddest part of this prevaricating, trimming episode in the Supreme Court, which bears so closely on contemporary life, is that if those justices were alive today and witnessed the triumph of vulgarity everywhere in American mass culture, they would, I suspect, shake their heads in tired resignation and persevere in their decision.
Early in the 21st century, we've reaped what we sowed. We naively trust those who occupy positions of high authority and power, falsely believing the "system" elevates only the wisest and most deserving. But in fact - in this fallen world - it's usually the most conniving, unethical and immoral that rise into those positions. With very few exceptions (i.e., Justice Scalia), the truly righteous tend to be weeded out. We foolishly sowed some very bad seed decades ago, and the rotten fruit is understandably now nauseating the culture.