I am floored, flummoxed, flabbergasted by the change in our social fabric. It is not the meanness; it is the ease with which people are mean. It is the facility with which the attacker claims victimhood. It is the pattern that justifies the cruelty.

We may complain no longer about the public’s short attention span or inability to learn. We listened and learned. We might complain about what we learned. We allowed the fox to rule over the chicken coop, the less than virtuous to interpret the law. Look what we got in return: meanness normalized.

Separating babies from their mothers is irrational and mean. Displacing thousands — under false pretenses, with false promises of jobs and housing, food and a chance at a new life — is mean. Moving them to places symbolic of Democratic rule — the United States Naval Observatory, a Massachusetts island town, New York City and California sanctuary cities — to make a point? Lunacy.

Govs. Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis and Doug Ducey moved immigrants by bus and plane to remind everyone that immigration is a problem for which, they say, Democrats are responsible. Without hesitation, they caused trouble for other communities and had a laugh at the expense of political rivals. Without hesitation, they upset the lives of bewildered immigrants trying to survive and reach safety. DeSantis announced he wants to spend $12 million more on this stunt. Iniquitous.

Abbott, DeSantis and Ducey are not going to jail. Their behavior is not illegal; it is immoral. It is not criminal, it is mean. Polite society does not imagine the aberrant, that is, the person or group whose behavior departs substantially from the acceptable standard. We did not imagine we would allow the lunatics to take over the asylum. We did, and because we did, there is work to be done.

The correction is not in the courts. The correction is our social interactions. First, in a solemn and sustaining oath to never, for any reason, grant such people to hold positions of power over us. More than that, the correction is societal. It is in our demand that folks behave. It is in our moral outrage when they do not.

William James, psychologist and brother of Henry, said, “No more fiendish punishment could be devised than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed.”

It is in our refusal to let DeSantis into our homes, to introduce Abbott to our innocent children or to allow Marjorie Taylor-Greene a seat at our dinner table. Oh, if we had only ignored Donald Trump rather than internalizing his sad madness. The solution is finally to recognize why DeSantis has more money to run for reelection in Florida and ultimately the presidency. Why are there people who want such immoral, anti-democratic, self-serving folks in office? Why would a wealthy few want DeSantis — a man who would risk the lives and welfare of other human beings to get a 30-second soundbite — to rule?

Stumped? It’s much easier when you call a thing by its name. Fascism is based on hate. Gaining and maintaining power in an authoritarian form of government is always rooted in division, hate and fear. There is a piece that sounds like patriotism but is ultranationalism — an excuse to identify and hate “the other.” Dictators all operate with a rigid hierarchy, subordination of the individual for the perceived good of the nation, strong regimentation of society and the economy, and harsh punishments. Most wouldn’t like it, but a few do. They find the masses distasteful, are certain they will be the rulers not the ruled, the beneficiaries of labor not the laborers. They support those who will bring it into being, support those with the arrogance to exploit the hate and fear of others for their own enrichment. First, these folks must normalize meanness — bullying, name-calling, defaming, accusing and threatening.

We have been allowing this behavior in our daily lives. They need us to be afraid and look to them for security. They need us to divide because there are fewer of them. They need us to hate the other so we cannot grow in the strength of numbers. They need us to suspect our neighbors so we cannot organize against them. They need us to believe the lies and the hokey conspiracy theories so that we can no longer discern the truth, because the truth is their enemy. The meanness in our own lives is the first step down the wrong path. Here’s the thing: We can control it. We can root it out just as we let it in.

Democracy is built on love, trust, mutual respect. It’s built on a willingness to understand the needs and desires of others and the willingness to fight for the rights of all. The vote is the power of the people, but decency and kindness are the underpinnings of our form of government just as meanness is the underpinning of theirs. At home or at the polls, we can still choose.

Carole Owens, a writer and historian, is a regular Eagle contributor.