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Monday, May 8, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There was a time, and not so long ago, when the conversation at the water cooler got no more heated than a discussion of how sharp or disappointing the previous night’s episode of “Seinfeld.” Jerry Seinfeld now complains bitterly that hypersensitivity spawned by political correctness is killing comedy.

There’s a poll (there always is) to prove it. A survey of 1,512 workers, conducted for the American Psychological Association, finds American workers are more likely now than in November to say they’re feeling tense or stressed because of political discussions at work.


Twenty-six percent say they feel stressed out by political discussions at work, up from 17 percent in a survey in September. More than one in five (21 percent) said they feel more skeptical and “negative” during the workday because of political talk, compared to 15 percent before November.

After presidential elections past, the losers eventually got over it, if sometimes grudgingly. They moved on with their lives until the next election. In the post-Obama era, the liberals — “progressives,” if they like — are determined to keep the conversation on the boil with protest marches in Washington and elsewhere, all to undermine the legitimacy of the Trump presidency. An earlier generation of Republican losers was content to stroll down to the Bijou in the evening to hiss Franklin D. Roosevelt in the newsreels.

The George Mason University Center for Media and Public Affairs has made a nonpartisan study of the Trump jokes by the late-night TV comedians, liberals all.

President Trump “was the target of 1,060 jokes during his first 100 days in office, more than his predecessors attracted during their entire first year in office.” Professor Robert Lichter noted that the full-year number for Barack Obama in 2009 was 936 jokes; for George W. Bush in 2001, 546, and for Bill Clinton in 1993, 440. Some were funny.

Nearly one in three respondents (31 percent) say they’ve watched co-workers arguing about politics, and 15 percent have argued with a colleague themselves. One in 4 say they avoid some co-workers because of their contrary political views. “Employers might prefer to keep political talk out of the workplace,” said David Ballard, director of the American Psychological Association, “but the reality is, these often-heated discussions have intensified since the election, posing a threat to employee well-being and business performance.”

Forty percent of respondents in the new survey say that talking about politics has reduced productivity, resulted in poorer quality of work, difficulty getting work done, a more negative view of co-workers and feeling tense or stressed out. That was up from the 27 percent in the September survey.

Whether because of all of the protest marches and all the anti-Trump jokes, or in spite of them, self-described liberals are substantially more likely than conservatives to report feeling tense or stressed since the November election (38 percent vs. 21 percent). They are twice as likely to perceive an increase in workplace hostility (26 percent vs. 13 percent for conservatives).

A poll in December by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that liberals and Democrats are about three times more likely to block, “unfriend” or “unfollow” someone on social media over political disagreements than their conservative and Republican counterparts.

Jerry Seinfeld might say there really is something wrong with that, and who are we to argue with a master of comedy? But it was ever thus. Americans are an argumentative lot — dueling with knives and unregistered guns was once popular in certain quarters — and in only the therapeutic age do we conduct polls to keep a constant measure of the temperature of the body politic. Laughter is good medicine, but only if taken as needed.


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