Column | Civic discourse has tumbled to a shocking new low
Other than Dallas Cowboys fans living in Philadelphia, no collection of individuals is subject to as much vitriol and opprobrium as those in public life – politics, entertainment, business, media or professional athletics.
None more so, perhaps, than politics, whether elected, appointed or merely involved as advisors or consultants. Granted, it’s never been a vocation for the easily offended or those who believe reason and logic will always win out over ignorance and dissembling.
There is a long and frequently sordid history in American politics of vicious insults based on physical appearance (Abe Lincoln was once compared to an ape), personal conduct (Bill Clinton behind closed doors in the Oval Office), or intellectual deficiency (George W. Bush and his casual book reading habits).
Since the election of Donald Trump, though, the environment has become so toxic there are no waters left to poison. Behavioral norms have been shattered, replaced by a race to determine who can reach the lowest level of human conduct first.
Campaign rhetoric has always been short on context and long on innuendo, but the civic discourse has tumbled into such a depth that calls for personal – if not physical – assaults on opponents are now acceptable.
Its highlight arrived with the call to arms issued by California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters to physically confront, harass, stalk, and scream obscenities at anyone serving in the Trump Administration.
Families, including children, are not exempt, nor are locations – restaurants, theaters, on the street, or in their homes – from her quasi-terrorist lunacy.
The catalyst for Rep. Waters’ latest declaration of war was the media coverage of children being separated from their immigrant parents who arrived at the southern border seeking asylum.
To be sure, the Trump Administration dealt with the issue about as badly as possible, struggling to defend what became increasingly indefensible, turning it into a public relations nightmare before eventually changing the procedure.
While former President Obama exercised authority to detain and separate families, his administration did so sparingly, while the Trump administration implemented a “zero tolerance” crackdown.
A parade of washed-up entertainers looking to resurrect faded careers by obscenity-laced assaults on the president and his family seized on the issue in a desperate search for internet traffic, hoping that somehow mouse clicks will confer relevancy.
The cable television talking heads eagerly participated in this seedy drama as well. The self-promoters who populate Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN may sing from ideologically differing hymnals, but the notes are equally as sour.
Trump bears responsibility as well for converting honest differences of opinion into seek and destroy missions. He ridiculed his opponents in his primary election campaign, did the same to Hillary Clinton and members of Congress, and anyone with a contrary opinion.
He relishes his running battle with the media, accusing reporters of deliberate dishonesty – liars in less polite language – and has embedded the term “fake news” in everyday language.
His opponents, in Congress and out, have called him a Nazi, a bigot motivated by hatred of minority groups. His children have been debased and mocked in the most obscene and cruel fashion possible.
Rep. Waters’ suggestion for popular insurrection came in the aftermath of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and her family being denied service in a rural Virginia restaurant.
The proprietor asked Sanders to leave because, after polling her employees, concluded Sanders’ presence was “morally offensive.” Sanders acted with class and dignity; the restauranteur did not.
Prior to the Sanders incident, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen left a Washington, D.C., restaurant after being harassed by protesters who later showed up at her home chanting insults.
Rep. Waters presumably looked with favor on this boorish and potentially dangerous behavior and hit upon the idea of taking it several steps further urging stalking and threatening anyone affiliated with the administration. Rep. Waters isn’t concerned about the possible effect on her political future, of course, but there is a genuine risk to Democratic congressional candidates in the mid-term elections posed by her becoming the leading example of resistance to Trump.
Americans understand politics is a blood sport, but there is a limit to their acceptance of it. They draw a line at obscene and threatening behavior, particularly when directed at children and family members. Such behavior brings an electoral backlash ever closer.
The closer a party gets to the fringe, the further it gets from success. Rep. Waters doesn’t seem bothered by it, but others should take heed lest they experience the wrath at being Cowboys fans in South Philly.