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Keeping up with Kincaid: how should I handle hatred?

Laken Kincaid
Editor-in-Chief, Laken Kincaid, reflects on their thoughts from the past week.

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.” -Gore Vidal

Recently, I found myself watching a clip of a televised political debate from 1968 that covered the Democratic convention of that election cycle. Where I originally expected poise and constructive thought from the moderators, I alternatively saw two theorists from opposite sides of the aisle tossing out clever and cutting insults at everything the other stood for. Perhaps I have a distorted view of conversations from this time period, but I was guffawed to see a man call his opposition such hateful things and threatening to “sock [him] in [his] god**** face.”

To say the least, I was instantly hooked.

After some heavy research, and some encouragement from Logan Sindone ‘24, I learned that this clip was just a fleeting moment from a series of fiery conversations televised live to tens of millions of people. It was a 10-night battle of wits between the famed but contentious liberal author Gore Vidal and the revolutionary but inflammatory conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr.

While the debates were supposed to be rooted in political commentary stemming from the heart of the 1968 presidential race, the two men consistently devolved their screen time to eloquent insults meant to roast the other on a barbecue spit over the fire of mass media.

Each thought the other’s lifestyle would be the death of America, which was balancing on a tightrope over the Vietnam War. Instead of a discussion on boring tax policy or predictions for who would come out victorious at the ballot box, the two enemies questioned the other’s core tenets and the foundations that each stood on above the other scholars in their field.

For some communication theorists today, this debate was the start of the #FakeNews culture we see scattered across our screens; it was a point in history where facts no longer mattered because controversy kept audiences glued to their television sets. The more storms there were, the more people tuned in to watch the drama unfold.

One specific example of this was the point when Buckley boiled over on camera, absolutely furious with not only Vidal but everything he was representing. It all came to a head when the GOP sophist was called a “Crypto-Nazi” by Vidal, effectively questioning the integrity of not only Buckley but the entire Republican party and slapping his past military service across the face. In a fit of rage, Buckley looked at Vidal and attacked his presence by calling the blue-blooded sage a homophobic slur in front of the entire nation.

Buckley was motivated to do this because he wanted to hurt Vidal in the same way, a way that cut into his soul. He wanted Vidal to feel his pain. However, Vidal did not respond with the same heat and gusto via a jab towards Buckley’s character. Instead, he issued his adversary a mischievous grin, signifying his victory in the skirmish.

Vidal had gotten under Buckley’s skin, which was his goal since they first met. With one swift blow, Buckley ended his own career and Vidal left the battle without any blood on his hands, knowing that his mind games led to his foe’s undoing.

When I watch this clip over and over again, I can’t help but think how I would react if I were in Vidal’s seat. Even if it were a feat of strategy, would I be able to keep my composure in the face of an outright hatred of not only my actions but who I am as a person?

An additional, less intense sentiment that mimics this thought process comes from an experience when one of my mentors at my job and I were jokingly patronizing one another. As an insecure and obnoxious intern, I asked, “do you hate me?” He responded with something to the effect of “you do not take up enough room in my mind for me to be able to hate you.”

Now, I am not saying my mentor hates me (despite what he may tell people). Instead, I think we are on a mutual level where we can exchange quips back and forth in this manner. After all, I have said multiple times that I enjoy witty banter and I am ecstatic that I am connected with someone who understands my humor and who I can playfully squabble back and forth with. Are there times when I struggle with knowing when a person is being sarcastic or seriously critiquing me? Absolutely and it further proves my point about detesting my own sensitivity.

Nevertheless, these kinds of interactions, the ones where someone’s fiery temper or self-doubt is nearly crippling them and their opposition relishes in their floundering, baffle me. There is something remarkable about being so secure in oneself that the opinions of another party, no matter how emotionally charged they are, do not alter your sense of self. It is something I aspire to emulate in the long run.

Growing up, I was asked multiple times by my peers and superiors if I truly want to work in the sphere of politics post-graduation. Yes, I know it may be hard to conceive now for those who know me best, as I throw around international relations jargon like a softball, but there was a time when those around me worried for my fate in the world of my dream job. However, it wasn’t because of my lack of passion or knowledge. It was rooted in the control I had over my feelings.

In my adolescence, I was a consistent emotional wreck who shirked at the mere thought of someone having a single negative thought about me. Not only was I a serial perfectionist, I was motivated by the perceptions of others no matter how large of a stake I had in their life; for me, everyone’s opinion either inflated my ego or crushed it with a critique like a mallet.

While I do believe that I have matured past this point in some form or another, finding self-worth beyond how others perceive me, I am still aspiring to have the mental fortitude that Vidal displays on television. Perhaps this is because Vidal shares my MBTI personality type, and I know the Commander archetype is supposed to display the “my-way-or-the-highway” idea of preferring to come out on top over receiving affection from all who I come in contact with.

These types of interactions look like a game of chess with a clear winner and loser; my temper and uncertainty often places me in the latter position. It is difficult to be cool, calm and collected when my confidence has the potential to be sliced thin by a butter knife.

I am sure there is some beauty to sensitivity that I will explore in a later column (after all, that is what I intended this piece to be at first), but the allure of being steadfast in one’s stance no matter the slander that slashes their reputation is admirable, and something I will have to cultivate as I continue on my professional journey.

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About the Contributor
Laken Kincaid
Laken Kincaid, Editor-in-Chief
Laken Kincaid is the Editor-in-Chief for The Carroll News from Beckley, West Virginia. They are a senior at John Carroll University who is double majoring in political science and communications (digital media) and minoring in leadership development. Laken has written for The Carroll News since the start of their freshman year and has previously served as a staff reporter, campus section editor and managing editor of the paper. They have received 18 Best of SNO awards, a Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for Region 4 and two honorable mentions from the College Media Association. They have also been recognized by universities like Georgetown for their investigative reports. Additionally, they also write political satire for The Hilltop Show and feature stories on global poverty for The Borgen Project. In addition to their involvement with The Carroll News, Laken is involved with the Kappa Delta sorority, the speech and debate team, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, the Improv club and other organizations. They also serve as the news director for WJCU 88.7, John Carroll's own radio station, and as the president for John Carroll's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.  Laken also started their own national nonprofit organization known as Art with the Elderly which they have won the President's Volunteer Service Award and the Humanity Rising Award for. When not writing, Laken can be found doing graphic design for their internship with Union Home Mortgage or working as a resident assistant and peer learning facilitator on campus. Laken also enjoys skiing and watching true crime documentaries. In the future, Laken hopes to become a political journalist for a national news organization or to be a campaign commercial editor for politicians. To contact Laken, email them at [email protected].

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