The Harriott II riverboat sits docked in Montgomery, Ala., on Aug. 8. A riverfront brawl occurred on Aug. 5 when a crew member was punched for trying to move a pontoon boat that was blocking the riverboat from docking. Credit: Kim Chandler / AP

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Susan Young is the Bangor Daily News opinion editor.

A dock-side melee in Alabama has gained national attention and spurred dozens of memes. The underlying problem — our propensity to try to settle disagreements with violence or threats of violence — is no laughing matter.

Every day people are yelling and threatening others over the smallest of slights (perceived or imagined). People have been killed over parking spots, children playing outside and turning around in a driveway. Many of these events have overlays of racism.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a boatload of white men reportedly yelled a racial slur at and physically assaulted a black captain rather than move their boat as he asked because it was in the way of a larger riverboat. Others joined the fight and one man hit others over the head with a folding chair. Four people have been charged in the incident, which was captured on video.

This kind of toxic animosity has spread to the highest ranks of our politics and corporations. Take the supposed upcoming cage match between Elon Musk, the head of the company that was long known as Twitter, and Mark Zuckerberg, head of the company that owns Facebook. This should be a bad joke, but somehow it is not. The two have been mocking and goading one another as their social media companies have taken hits. The only way to prove who is better, apparently, is to fight one another. Sure, the money raised from viewership will go to charity, but the whole thing is ludicrous.

It reminds me of the dystopian world in “Chain Gang All Stars,” a new novel by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. In the book, Adjei-Brenyah chronicles a world where the most popular “sporting” event involves prisoners, who are mostly black, fighting one another until one is killed. The battles, and the violent and constrained lives of the prisoners, are broadcast for paying viewers.

It is barbaric and anachronistic, a throwback to the days of gladiators and lions. Except, it isn’t so far from today’s reality — especially rhetorically.

GOP presidential wannabe Ron DeSantis recently said he would “start slitting throats” of what he called “deep state people” on day one if he is elected president. Apparently, he was talking about shrinking the federal bureaucracy, which may very well be in order, but by more humane means. It wasn’t the first time DeSantis has used this grotesque rhetoric. I fear for people who are persuaded to vote for candidates who spew such violent bravado.

Donald Trump made mocking, belittling and even threatening those who disagreed with him a centerpiece of his campaigns and even his presidency. It’s not a model worth emulating.

For those who say I’m overreacting, this is just hyperbole, we don’t need to look too far to see the consequences of such violent rhetoric. On Jan. 6, 2021, the day Congress was set to certify the 2020 presidential election results, then-President Trump gave a speech where he once again decried an election that was “stolen” from him, and his supporters. He exhorted his followers, who had heard more than a month of false claims from Trump that he had won the election, to go to the Capitol and to “fight like hell.” He used the word “fight” 20 times in his speech.

And, guess what, many of his supporters soon went off to fight. Some stormed the Capitol, beat police officers and forced members of Congress into hiding. Some threatened to hang Vice President Mike Pence, and one threatened to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Dozens have been convicted and sentenced to prison for their violence on Jan. 6. Many have said they were simply doing what the president told them to do.

This propensity to settle disagreements with violence has spread far beyond politics and corporate leadership. At an extreme, look to the neo-Nazi who is hoping to establish a white haven in Maine to prepare for what he reportedly calls “a violent war.” In the meantime, his group is disrupting Pride events with vile threats.

When Nazis move to town, corporate titans plan a cage fight and presidential candidates threaten to violently harm those who simply disagree, we need to stop and take stock of where we are and what we’ve become. Despite amazing advances in recent decades, we’ve reverted to our reptile brains.

That seems like a giant step backward.

Susan Young is the opinion editor at the Bangor Daily News. She has worked for the BDN for over 25 years as a reporter and editor.